In Which I Try To Look Like Stevie Nicks

Back in the good old days, Rhino Entertainment celebrated Halloween by ending the work day at 3 o’clock, at which time we would go to a karaoke bar for costume and singing contests. I aced both the year I went as Britney Spears. I think the snake I pulled out during “I’m a Slave 4 U” clinched it for me.

I reused the wig I bought for my Britney costume the following Halloween when I dressed up as Stevie Nicks. I found an inexpensive black lace skirt at the thrift shop near my home. I wore a large measuring spoon around my neck and applied some lipstick and called it a costume.

Not being a professional crossdresser (these were my only two times in drag; I can’t explain the other photos of my doing karaoke with wigs on), I paid no attention to things like makeup. I didn’t look in the mirror until hours after I got dressed. It was disappointing to see I looked nothing like Stevie Nicks. Nobody could figure out who I was supposed to be or if in fact I was in costume until we got to the karaoke portion of our day, when I killed “Gypsy” and “Stand Back.”

Nancy is upset because she looks like Stevie Nicks…

StevieI’m upset because I don’t.

Today the inspiring Stevie Nicks turns 66. Here is some of her best.

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In Which Bob Dylan Helps Me With A Wedding Gift

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In 1997 my sister and her boyfriend got engaged. For their wedding song, I suggested a cut from the then-new Bob Dylan album Time out of Mind, “Make You Feel My Love.” My sister and her fiancé were big Dylan fans but they did not yet have that album. I was working at Sony Music at the time, so I picked up a copy at work and gave it to them. They fell in love with the song and went with my suggestion.

Back then I worked with Dylan’s manager on a regular basis. I told him the above story and, trying to come up with a great wedding gift, asked if Bob could sign something that I can frame and present to them. He said I should send him something for Bob to sign, and the next time Bob was in the office he’ll ask him. No promises, no guarantees.

I bought the sheet music for the song and mailed it to Bob’s manager. I waited. And waited. And waited.

My sister and her fiancé got married. I learned that proper etiquette allows for a wedding gift to be bestowed upon the newlyweds for up to a year following the wedding day. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

While in the car with my sister one day she asked me “Where’s our wedding gift?” I told it had not yet arrived. She said “You tell whoever you ordered it from you’ll never do business with them again.” Sure. Will do. Then she asked, “Can you get us tickets to the Bob Dylan concert next month?” I’ll try.

I changed jobs, leaving Sony to head up the licensing department at Zomba Recording Corporation. My friend Laura remarked “You’re going from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears?” That was a great move on my part (not because of any problems with Dylan), but that’s the subject for a different blog entry. I called Dylan’s manager to let him know of my new role and that I was still hopeful Bob would sign the sheet music.

A few weeks later, I got a call. “Glenn, what is your new work address? I have something for you.”

The next day, I received a FedEx envelope. I opened it up and removed the sheet music that was inside. Across the first two pages of the song was written “To Debbie and Brett – Best wishes on your wedding! – Bob Dylan.” Holy fuck!

I brought it to a frame shop, hoping with every fiber in my being that nobody there would steal it or ruin it. They did a great job making a custom frame for the music.

I called my sister to tell her I have her gift and to schedule when I could take a bus out to Bronxville and give it to her. She said “I figured out what it is! BOB DYLAN’S COMING TO DINNER!!!” Yeah, Bob Dylan will wait with me at the Port Authority to board a bus to Bronxville. Won’t she be disappointed that all I got was sheet music for her wedding song personally-autographed by the song’s composer, a legendary singer-songwriter of whom she and her husband are big fans.

She may have been disappointed when Bob didn’t get off of the bus with me, but she loved the gift. I don’t know if I’ll ever top that one.

Today Bob Dylan turns 73. Encapsulating an extensive career with so many high points into a brief playlist is a challenge. I decided to stick with twenty songs, limiting myself to only one song per album selected and not sticking with the most obvious choices. He’s a great artist and a cool gifting aide.

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The #22 Album Of All-Time

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If memory serves, some time in late 1984 Glenn O’Brien, in his music column in Interview magazine, mentioned a band that was all the rage among music critics in England. “Thus far the only people in the United States who have heard of The Smiths are some pretentious yuppies at Brandies University,” he wrote. I don’t know if I’d call us yuppies – we were college students – but my friends and I had discovered The Smiths.

Kathy discovered them when she studied in London for a semester. While there she made me a mix tape that included The Smiths’ “This Charming Man.” Its catchy melody and distinctive vocals hit me immediately.

Around the time O’Brien wrote the above-referenced item The Smiths released “How Soon Is Now?” The lyrics included “’There’s a club, would you like to go? You could meet somebody who really loves you / So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die.” It’s like Morrissey, the band’s lead singer/lyricist, was reading my diary! The record went to #1 in Glenn’s Ten, though failed to chart nationally.

Morrissey’s over-the-top lyrics (and I mean that description in the most flattering way) coupled with Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar riffs separated The Smiths from other bands of that era or any other era. Songs such as “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” were not the minor-key dirges their titles suggest. They were uptempo, in major keys, and melodic.

The group’s artistic pinnacle was their 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, #22 on my Top Albums of All-Time list. The lyrics are Morrissey at his most Morrissey-esque. “If a double-decker bus crashes into us – to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die” and “Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every tooth in your head.” Marr juxtaposes these words with music that invites the listener to sing along.

Morrissey, who turns 55 today, releases his new album, World Peace Is None of Your Business, this July. Here are a few of my favorite moments from his career. (The Spotify embed tool still is not working.)

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Serial Mom And Cher

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Several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking with movie director/screenwriter John Waters. He was putting together a CD compilation entitled A Date With John Waters and was looking to license a couple of songs from Warner Music, where I was Vice-President of Licensing. Our discussion of the deal points for the licenses evolved into a general discussion about licensing. I found it interesting that John Waters, a famous filmmaker who used a lot of music (and used it very effectively) in the dozen features he directed, had no idea how the licensing fees were determined. I’m not putting him down for not knowing; why would he? His role was on the creative side, not the business side.

John told me that the most expensive license fee he ever had to pay was for the use of the song “Tomorrow” from Annie in his film Serial Mom. He thought the licensor charged him as much as they did because they were secretly hoping he would say it’s too expensive and not use their song, thereby avoiding associating an innocent children’s song with one of his subversive films. I remember so clearly the scene in which the song is used. Mrs. Jensen sits in her easy chair to enjoy the videotape of the movie Annie. As she watches and sings along with the famous show-stopping number, Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner), the titular serial killer, breaks into Jensen’s house and beats her to death with a leg of lamb. It’s the perfect song to be played during this murder scene, making the scene that much more memorable. Whoever negotiated that deal on behalf of the copyright holder knew the value that song brought to the scene/film and charged accordingly. It was worth the money.

Which brings us to Cher.

I’m not saying listening to Cher’s records is akin to being bludgeoned to death by a leg of lamb, her 80s output notwithstanding. The part of me that is tickled by the ridiculousness of a woman bludgeoned by meat while singing along to “Tomorrow” is the same part of me that enjoys Cher’s late 60s/early 70s music. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” with the lyric “Music played, the people sang / Just for me the church bells rang” and the bizarre bridge, during which Cher yells “Hey” like she’s shooing her dog off the newspaper she is trying to read. “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” in which Cher, who is part of a traveling show in which her mother dances for money thrown at her and her father sells something called Dr. Good, gets knocked up at 16 by a 21-year-old. She sings “Papa would have shot him if he knew what he’d done.” The baby she had should have been a clue. “The Way of Love,” which so eloquently describes an unrequited love with this Buttheaded lyric: “When you meet a boy that you like a lot / And you fall in love but he loves you not.” “Half-Breed,” in which Cher blames her mixed heritage on her being a trollop. “My life since then has been from man to man / But I can’t run away from what I am,” she sings. And the crème de la crème, “Dark Lady,” in which her man and the fortune teller with whom he was having an affair are killed by Cher, alas not with a leg of lamb.

Today Cher, whose vocals can be heard on an upcoming Wu-Tang Clan album, turns 68. Here are some of my favorites from her catalogue. (The Spotify playlist embed tool isn’t working; hopefully that link does!)

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It’s Janet Jackson’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

Do you ever feel like you merely exist as opposed to being alive? Does it feel like too much of your time is given to answering to what others want from you, be them your boss or your family, and too little time is given to doing what you want to do the way you want to do it? Do you know that changes are needed but don’t know where to begin?

You need to ask yourself WWJJD? What would Janet Jackson do?

Picture this – Los Angeles. 1982. You’re a 16-year-old girl from a famous family. You release your debut album, cleverly entitled Janet Jackson, with production overseen by your manager/father, Joseph Jackson. It peaks at #63 and goes on to sell fewer than 150,000 units over the next quarter-century. You follow up that album with 1984’s Dream Street. It peaks at #147 and sells fewer than half as many copies as the first album. You didn’t want to do either album but you did them for your father.

You come to a realization – you want to be the one who’s in control of your destiny. You fire your father as your manager. You have your marriage annulled. You work with new producers, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who collaborate with you on new songs about your newfound independence, from your father, from your ex-husband, and from nasty guys who objectify you and call you Baby when your first name ain’t Baby; it’s Janet.

Your father demands you record your third album in Los Angeles. You record it in Minneapolis. Your father tells a reporter “If Janet listens to me, she’ll be as big as Michael,” referring to Janet’s brother Michael Jackson, not Michael Schoeffling, who portrayed Jake Ryans in the movie Sixteen Candles, and who, with all due respect, isn’t that big. You ignore him. Your father listens to a pre-release copy of the new album and claims it will never sell. You demand it be released.

That album, 1986’s Control, sells over fourteen million copies. It goes to #1 and is nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

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Be more like Janet. Take control of your life. Today is Janet Jackson’s 48th birthday. Buy yourself some cake. You deserve it. And enjoy today’s dance playlist, inspired by Miss Jackson.

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A Talking Heads Playlist

One of the best things about my job as Vice President of Licensing at Warner Music was working with one of the greatest catalogues in the business. I negotiated deals for many of my favorite artists under the Warner umbrella, including R.E.M., Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Ray Charles, the Ramones and Fleetwood Mac, to name just a few.

Another of my favorite acts whose music I got to license was Talking Heads. Just last year I did a deal for the band’s live version of “Slippery People” to be included on the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. Marrying great music to great projects makes for the most rewarding parts of my career.

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Today Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne celebrates his 62nd birthday. Here are twenty of my favorite tracks from this band.

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The #3 Album Of All-Time

In 1973, 23-year-old Stevie Wonder, who had been having hit records for a decade, released Innervisions. He wrote the lyrics, all of which carry meaning and are substantive. He composed the music, with catchy melodies making the messages that much more accessible. He played almost all of the instruments on each track. He arranged and produced the album. He did all of those things superbly. That is why I rank Innervisions as my #3 album of all-time.

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Musically, one gets a blend of funk, ballads, soul, and jazz fusion.

Vocally, one hears a singer at the top of his game, taking chances in how he uses his voice and ad-libbing in ways that impress and delight the listener.

Lyrically, the album covers a wide range of subjects in its nine songs. Drug abuse, social anger, politics, love and false religion are covered in ways that don’t come across as overly-preachy or haranguing.

More than forty years after its release, the messages of Innervisions are still relevant. “Living for the City” tells the story of a young man who moves from his home in Mississippi, where his family struggles to make ends meet, to New York City, where his hopes of a prosperous new life are immediately dashed when he is taken advantage of and unjustly convicted on a drug charge, sentenced to ten years in jail. This story could be set in any year since the album’s release and still ring true. The racism and the struggle to escape poverty, and the anger and hurt that accompany these things, remain prevalent.

Three days after the album’s August 3, 1973 release, Wonder was involved in an accident. On his way to a benefit concert, the car in which he was a passenger collided with a truck carrying logs. A log went through the car’s windshield and smashed Wonder in the head, ultimately putting him in a coma for four days.

Reflecting on his coma, Wonder said “For a few days I was definitely in a much better spiritual place that made me aware of a lot of things that concern my life and my future and what I have to do to reach another higher ground. This is like my second chance for life, to do something or to do more and to face the fact that I am alive.” How prescient that Innervisions included the song “Higher Ground,” with its message of transcendence and a second chance.

You may know “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” from the movie Silver Linings Playbook. The song is about maintaining a positive outlook, with Wonder portraying a fast-talking guy hitting on a girl in the song’s opening, telling her “Todo está bien chévere.” Everything’s going to be alright.

The album closes with “He’s Misstra Know-It-All,” about “a man with a plan” who has an answer for all criticisms lobbed at him. Many believe the song was about then President Richard Nixon. Nixon was obviously the subject of the first single from Wonder’s follow-up album, Fulfillingness’ First Finale’s not-subtly-titled “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” That’s a terrific album as well, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.

Today is Stevie Wonder’s 64th birthday. Let his masterful Innervisions inspire you to create your own great work of art. Here are twenty of my favorite Stevie Wonder tracks.

Winston + U2

A Hint Of Mint: U2’s “One”

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A 2003 special edition of Q magazine listed the 1001 Best Songs Ever. At #1 was U2’s “One.” The then eleven-year-old single was also named Song of the Year by the readers of Rolling Stone in their 1992 year-end issue.

Deciding whether or not “One” is the best song ever is too stressful on this writer, who has been spending several years trying to compile his 100 Greatest Albums list. But I can say this – there are very few songs that still make me cry after hearing them 4,304 times. “One” is one.

Perhaps you’ve heard the song 4,304 times but never paid close attention to the words. Bono, who wrote the lyrics, said the song is about the father/son relationship. Let’s explore this. Let’s say the son is gay and the father is a religious man who chooses to interpret the Bible as saying God thinks homosexuality is a sin. The father was not supportive of his son when his son came out to him. Now the son has AIDS. He told his father. “One” is the son expressing to his dad the emotions about their relationship previously bottled up.

The song opens with the son asking his dad if the anger he had towards his son upon learning he was gay has subsided any. “Is it getting better or do you feel the same?,” he asks. Bitter about his father’s previous rejection, he makes a dig at the man’s homophobic feelings – “Will it make it easier on you now? You’ve got someone to blame.”

“You say ‘one love, one life.’” The one acceptable love is of the heterosexual variety and you have only one life in which to find it.

The son is angry and bitter, but mostly hurt. He asks his dad “Did I disappoint you or leave a bad taste in your mouth?” That line is followed by the indictment “You act like you never had love and you want me to go without.” Would a father really prefer his son not find love than find love with another man? I know that happens but I find that incomprehensible. How can a parent be that way toward their own child? That chokes me up.

Knowing he has AIDS and feeling the clock is ticking, the son is looking to not rehash the old wounds between the two of them. “Well it’s too late tonight to drag the past out into the light.” This is followed by the first time Bono sings the line “We’re one but we’re not the same.” In this case, it means we are of the same family, but we’re very different as people. “We get to carry each other, carry each other.” That is what families do. Parents are supposed to take care of their children and children should take care of their parents.

Now that the son is living with AIDS is his father expecting him to apologize for the life he led and tell the dad he was right? “Have you come here for forgiveness? Have you come to raise the dead? Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?”

We already see the child is angry and hurt, but the next lines really drive it home. “Did I ask too much? More than a lot? You gave me nothing; now it’s all I got.” The son just wanted his father’s love and support, but his father refused to give it. The line “We’re one but we’re not the same” is repeated, but now it is followed by “We hurt each other, then we do it again.” This is the cycle of their adult relationship.

The son’s fury at his dad using religion to justify his intolerance is expressed in the next verse. “You say love is a temple, love a higher law,” followed shortly after by the son’s incredibly painful accusation “You ask me to enter but then you make me crawl.”

The song/conversation ends with the sentiment that one must be true to one’s self and not live according to someone else’s beliefs. This is aimed not at this one father, but at all human beings. “One life – you got to do what you should. One life with each other. Sisters, brothers.”

Bono told Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn “I had a lot of things going on in my head at the time, about forgiveness, about father and son angst…It is a song about coming together, but it’s not the old hippie idea of ‘Let’s all live together.’ It is, in fact, the opposite. It’s saying, ‘We are one, but we’re not the same.’ It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive. It’s a reminder that we have no choice.”

“One” was the third single released from U2’s Achtung Baby album, presently #26 in my Top Albums list. The band’s royalties from sales of the single were donated to AIDS research organizations for each country in which the single was released.

The photograph used on the single’s cover was taken by openly-gay HIV-positive artist David Wojnarowicz. Per the liner notes, it depicts “how Indians hunted buffalo by causing them to run off cliffs.” Wojnarowicz related to the buffalo. He died of complications from AIDS in 1992. He was 37.

Today Bono turns 54. Grab a couple of tissues and give another listen
to “One,” which kicks off today’s playlist.

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It’s Dave Gahan’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

In the late 1980s the members of Depeche Mode were recording their seventh studio album, Violator. One of its songs began life as a slow ballad with the only instrumental accompaniment being from an organ played by the song’s writer, band member Martin Gore.

The group’s then-keyboardist Alan Wilder suggested speeding up the track and adding a beat. He and the album’s producer, Flood, then suggested Gore add a guitar riff. DM lead singer Dave Gahan, in an interview with Q magazine, recalls Gore being upset with what was happening to his song, though Gore told Mojo magazine that once he came up with the guitar part, “I think that’s the only time in our history when we all looked at each other and said, ‘I think this might be a hit.'”

Their instincts were spot on. The song went on to become the band’s first (and to date, only) top ten pop single in the US. The Violator album became their first top ten album stateside and their highest-charting album up to that time in the UK, where it peaked at #2. Said Gahan about the track, “It really made the album cross over into another cosmos. It had been a constant climb over the previous 10 years, but I don’t think we were prepared for what was about to come. The album was a worldwide success and suddenly these huge royalty checks started coming in and you were able to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted – the velvet rope was always open.”

If you’re working on something, keep tinkering with it. Approach it in varied ways. Experimentation may lead you to be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want.

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Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode turns 52 today. Our Friday dance playlist kicks off with this ballad-turned-crossover dance smash, “Enjoy the Silence.”

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This Date In Glenn’s Ten

In 1980 an Ohio-born performer living in Australia wrote and recorded a song that went on to sell over six million copies. It went to #1 in a dozen or so countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, France, and the UK, where it reigned on top for three weeks. It has been covered dozens of times in different languages, and that’s not including the many versions of the tune that have been uploaded to YouTube.

The performer is Joe Dolce and the song is “Shaddap You Face,” which was #1 in Glenn’s Ten (the only chart that matters) on this day in 1981.

Glenn's Ten 005Thirty-three years of Glenn’s Ten lists are in these books

My point in telling you this is this – no idea is too stupid. If there is a song you wish to write, a book you wish to publish, an invention you wish to create, go for it! You could be the next Joe Dolce! And if someone tells you your idea sucks, say to them “Ah, shaddup you face.”

Today’s playlist consists of songs that were #1 in Glenn’s Ten on May 8 going back to 1981. The only one missing is 1993’s entry, “Riding on a Rocket” by Shonen Knife, as that is not available on Spotify.