The Coolest Thing About Willie Nelson

The coolest thing about Willie Nelson is his non-conformity. A country music legend who, unlike many of his peers, isn’t always seen in a cowboy hat and who supports progressive positions on marriage equality (pro), the war in Iraq (anti), the legalization of marijuana (pro) and solar power (pro).

The coolest thing about Willie Nelson is his compassion. He is the president of Farm Aid and in 1985, with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, set up the series of Farm Aid concerts that raised over $9 million for American farmers in its first year. He is on the Board of Directors of the Animal Welfare Institute and has campaigned for the better treatment of horses as well as for calves raised to produce milk for dairy products.

The coolest thing about Willie Nelson is this photo:


The coolest thing about Willie Nelson is his hit “On the Road Again.”

The coolest thing about Willie Nelson is that he charted with a cover of “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other” as Brokeback Mountain was doing well at the box office.

The coolest thing about Willie Nelson is that he wrote “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Hello Walls.”

Willie Nelson is cool. Today he turns 81. Here is a small sampling of his work.

Ringo + Sheena

Bad Music I Love – Sheena Easton

Ringo + Sheena
As you may gather from my blog, there’s a lot of great music I love. There is also a lot of bad music I love. I find the combination of dopey lyrics with catchy music irresistible.

That brings us to Sheena Easton, who turns 55 today.

Her first hit single was “Morning Train.” In England it was entitled “Nine to Five,” but they changed the title stateside so as to avoid confusion with Dolly Parton’s hit “9 to 5.” Easton’s Scottish brogue could very easily be confused with Dolly’s Tennessee twang by the hearing-imparied.

The chorus of “Morning Train,” a #1 hit from 1981, begins “My baby takes the morning train / He works from nine to five / And then he takes another home.” Fascinating, Sheena! Tell us more! I’ve never heard such a unique story.

Her follow-up single was “Modern Girl,” which includes the couplet “She eats a tangerine / Flips through a magazine,” a rhyme that was used to better effect 14 years later in The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly.”

The James Bond theme “For Your Eyes Only” came next. I have no beef with that. It’s on her fourth single where the bad reaches a new level.

You know you’re in trouble with “You Could Have Been With Me”’s opening line. “You’re the seventh son of the seventh son.” Who can’t relate to that? Later in the song she sings “You can’t even seem to love yourself, and, with a few exceptions, not anybody else.” With a few exceptions? That negates the point, doesn’t it? He doesn’t love you, Sheena! Get over it! He can’t appreciate the magazine/tangerine rhyme like I can.

Knowing she couldn’t get any worse than “You Could Have Been With Me” (she did know that, right?), she went on to do a series of fun, uptempo hits. This was after an excruciating cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” done with Kenny Rogers. I didn’t include that on today’s playlist. Don’t say I don’t care about you.

The pinnacle of the fun dance songs was when she invited the listener to “come spend the night inside my sugar walls.” Sweet! “Sugar Walls” was written by Prince under the pseudonym Alexander Nevermind. She would collaborate with Prince a few more times, most notably on his hit “U Got the Look.”

Spotify is very light on the Sheena Easton tracks; they don’t even have her last big hit, “The Lover in Me,” which went to #2 in 1989. Here’s what I scraped together. Strut, pout, put it out and enjoy!

Winston + Erasure 003

It’s Andy Bell’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

Winston + Erasure 003
I want to go back to 1984. Not the year. The party.

In 1993 I spent Friday nights at Crowbar, a tiny venue at 339 E. 10th Street in New York City. The weekly party was called 1984. Admission was $3. The music was new wave and pop, primarily from the 80s. Crowbar was about the size of my studio apartment, but that didn’t stop the proprietors from squeezing in a couple hundred folks who wanted to dance to Madonna and New Order and Culture Club.

Because the place was jam-packed, dancing consisted of nodding your head. There was no room to move your legs or arms. There was no air circulation, so one worked up a sweat just standing still. It was great fun, getting lost in the music. Even songs I don’t like were fun at Crowbar. When they played the rare song I couldn’t get into, I would think “If there’s a fire, we’re all going to die. There’s no way for most of us to get out.” Good thing I liked most of the songs!

Mayor Giuliani had the same thought. Not about how great Pet Shop Boys are, but that the place was a fire hazard. He had Crowbar shut down. The party didn’t stop, though. 1984 moved to the more spacious Pyramid Club on Avenue A and was just as much fun, maybe even more so being now one can actually move to the music.

One band that got a lot of play at the party was Erasure. The duo’s singer, Andy Bell, was one of the very few openly gay pop stars in the eighties. 1984 was a gay party (though non-gays were welcome), and the guys who went to Crowbar and then The Pyramid on Friday nights hailed Andy as one of their heroes, in an era when few celebrities were out.

Erasure had two crossover hits in the US. The first was “Chains of Love.” To the general public it was a catchy ditty. To the gay population it was an anthem. In an era when many media outlets portrayed gay and AIDS as automatically connected, fear was rampant. Bell advised listeners to not let who you love shackle you into holding back your love, your compassion, your pursuit of happiness. “Come to me, cover me, hold me. Together we’ll break these chains of love. Don’t give up.” The joy in that club when that song played, hands in the air and patrons singing along, is something I miss.

Andy Bell turns 50 today. Our Friday dance playlist is in honor of him and everyone who made 1984 the party so special.

Ringo + Roy

The Big O

Ringo + Roy
Beginning the week of August 8, 1963, and continuing for the proceeding 68 weeks, only one American artist hit #1 on the UK singles chart. The man was Roy Orbison, who accomplished the feat twice – first with “It’s Over” in June 1964 and then with “Oh, Pretty Woman” in October 1964.

The late great Roy Orbison was born on April 23, 1936. Here is a small sampling of some of his best work.

Ringo + Iggy 001

Iggy Pop’s Real Wild Child

Ringo + Iggy 001
In the UK Iggy Pop has had one top ten single – “Real Wild Child (Wild One).” It’s a cover of a 1958 single by Australian rocker Johnny O’Keefe. O’Keefe’s version didn’t chart in the US or the UK; however, a remake done by Jerry Allison, one of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, reached #68 in the US.

Pop’s version appears on his album Blah Blah Blah. It didn’t crack the US pop chart, though it did reach #27 on the Album Rock chart.

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates Iggy’s 67th birthday.

Ringo + Chic 002

It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

Ringo + Chic 002

In August of 1979 the band Chic had their second #1 pop and r&b hit with “Good Times.” Later that year they played at New York’s Bonds nightclub on a bill with The Clash and Blondie. When they launched into “Good Times,” a handful of audience members jumped on stage and started freestyling rhymes over the song’s instrumental break.

Later that year those audience members, under the name The Sugarhill Gang, released “Rapper’s Delight.” Built around the bass line from “Good Times,” “Rapper’s Delight” became the first rap record to make the pop top 40. The rules around “sampling” had not yet been established, so Chic threatened legal action over the rap trio’s use of the bass line, created by Chic’s bassist, Bernard Edwards. The Sugarhill Gang’s record label settled with Chic, and Edwards and his bandmate Nile Rodgers received a writing credit on “Rapper’s Delight.”

Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour, and today’s dance playlist kicks off with Chic’s “Good Times,” in memory of Bernard Edwards, who died on April 18, 1996.

Ringo + Liz Phair 002

The 35th Best Album Of All-Time, Subject To Change

Ringo + Liz Phair 002
I’m still making my list of the top 100 albums of all-time (see here and here). In its most recent iteration, Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville is nestled at #35, between Pet Shop Boys’ Very and Prince and the Revolution’s 1999.

The Phair album, a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, was a critical favorite upon its release in 1993. Both Spin and the Village Voice listed the album at #1 on their year-end lists, while Rolling Stone gave it 5, Pitchfork gave it a 9.6 and Entertainment Weekly gave it an A.

You needn’t know the Stones’ album to enjoy Guyville. Today’s playlist, in honor of Liz Phair’s 47th birthday, consists of a few songs from her landmark album plus a few other favorites from her follow-up releases.

Winston + Dusty 002

Dusty Springfield: Genesis Of A Classic

At Italy’s Sanremo Festival in 1965, Pino Donaggio and Jody Miller performed a new song Donaggio co-wrote entitled “Io che non vivo (senza te).” In the audience was singer Dusty Springfield, who liked the song and wanted to record an English-language version.

Springfield told her friend Vicki Wickham about the song. Wickham, producer of the TV show Ready Steady Go!, told her friend Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds, while they were dining out. Though neither was known as a songwriter, they took a stab at writing new lyrics after that dinner, first at Wickham’s home and continuing in a taxi on the way to a club. They had no idea what the Italian lyrics were about. The composition they worked on started with the title “I Don’t Love You,” which became “You Don’t Love Me,” then “You Don’t Have to Love Me,” and, finally, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

Winston + Dusty 002

In the new lyrics, the singer’s partner appears to have fallen out of love with the singer. She still loves him/her and is willing to accept the lack of reciprocity of that feeling, provided the other person stays with her – “You don’t have to say you love me, just be close at hand.”

Springfield went into the studio the next day to record the new words. Unhappy with the acoustics in the recording booth, she went into a stairway to do a take. In total it was reported she did 47 takes before settling on one she liked.

“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” became Dusty Springfield’s first and only #1 hit in the UK, where she had thirteen top tens. In the US the record hit #4. Rolling Stone included it on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the birthday of the late, great Dusty Springfield.

Ringo + Arcade Fire

An Arcade Fire Playlist

Ringo + Arcade Fire
The kids know a place where no planes go. Where no ships go. Where no spaceships nor subs go. Where no cars go.

“No Cars Go,” “Intervention” and “Keep the Car Running” are my three favorite Arcade Fire songs.

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the birthday of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, who turns 34.