Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Change Is Gonna Come If You Make It So

A company I worked for – I won’t say which one – has an amazing catalogue of rhythm & blues music, arguably the best r&b catalogue of any record label. Despite possessing this goldmine, most of our catalogue releases were from white rock bands. I asked a member of senior management why we didn’t do more with our black artists, and the answer I got was “We don’t know how to sell that music.”

Is that not a stupid response? If you don’t know how to do that, hire someone who has that expertise, or learn how to do it. Why ignore a large swath of your potential market, especially when you already own the assets?

Years ago I was put in charge of licensing at a record label. I knew the music and I knew the components of licensing deals; however, I wasn’t a very good negotiator. I found the process intimidating. I could have left it at that – “I don’t know how to negotiate.” My company would have made money nonetheless, though not at its full potential. For that matter, I wouldn’t be working at full potential.

I took a course in negotiations. Six weeks, $300. Money well spent. I put what I learned in the class into action. Practice makes perfect, and I became an excellent negotiator. In my four years at that company our licensing revenue increased 400%. My skills also led to my next job as the Vice President of Licensing at another company.

Is a lack of some skill or knowledge holding you back? Fix that. Read a book, attend a seminar, take an on-line course or find a mentor. Saying “I don’t know how” won’t lead to success; learning how will.

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Today is the last day of Black Music Month. It would be ludicrous to think a 40-song playlist would cover black music in any comprehensive way. Enjoy it for what it is – nearly three hours of fantastic music. Listen to it while you research how to learn a new skill.

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Glenn’s Ten – June 29, 2014

A handful of readers asked me to post Glenn’s Ten, the weekly ranking of my ten favorite current songs. I’m happy to oblige.

Glenn’s Ten for this week is:
1. “Every Time the Sun Comes Up” – Sharon Van Etten
2. “Somethin’ Bad” – Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
3. “Just One Drink” – Jack White
4. “Do It Again” – Röyksopp and Robyn
5. “Control” – Broken Bells
6. “West Coast” – Lana Del Rey
7. “Love Never Felt So Good” – Michael Jackson
8. “Hundreds of Ways” – Conor Oberst
9. “Come Get It Bae” – Pharrell Williams
10. “Ain’t It Fun” – Paramore

Rounding out today’s playlist are ten tunes that were #1 on this date in Glenn’s Ten history, in reverse chronological order.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

Today is the 27th of June. Only three more days of Gay Pride month and then I can go back to my self-loathing. Phew!

New York has their big Pride celebration this weekend. While I enjoy Pride here in West Hollywood, it’s nothing compared to the revelry in my former home of Manhattan.

The Los Angeles Pride parade here in WeHo goes for around two miles and lasts a couple of hours. If memory serves, New York’s parade is five or so miles long and lasts for around 168 hours. WeHo’s parade consists of a handful of politicians, floats for clubs I never heard of, some folks who are legends in their own minds, and a lot of lesbians on motorcycles. NYC’s parade consists of many political groups, many religious organizations, important social clubs such as Lesbians for Patsy Cline and Queens Against Brunch, and a hell of a lot of lesbians on motorcycles.

The list of Grand Marshals of NYC’s parade over the past ten years includes Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter of the Academy Award-wining film Milk; Lt. Dan Choi, a member of the US Army who served in Iraq, came out a gay, and challenged the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy; Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better Project, designed to dissuade LGBT youth from suicide as the answer to school bullying; Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the United States v Windsor Supreme Court case which led to part of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act being struck down as unconstitutional, paving the way for the legalization of same-sex nuptials; Cleve Jones, the LGBT and AIDS activist who, among other things, conceived of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 1983; Constance McMillen, the high school student who sued her school in Mississippi when they refused to allow her to bring her girlfriend to the school prom; and Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, whose murder for being gay led to expanded hate crimes legislation to cover sexual orientation.

The list of LA’s Grand Marshals over the past ten years includes Paris Hilton, who is very wealthy and said “Gay guys are the horniest people in the world. Most of them probably have AIDS … I would be so scared if I was a gay guy … you’ll like die of AIDS;” Sharon Osbourne, who is very wealthy; Chelsea Handler, the television personality who dated 50 Cent, the grammatically-challenged former superstar who tweeted “If you a man and your over 25 and you don’t eat pussy just kill your self damn it. The world will be a better place. Lol;” and Demi Lovato, who had a gay grandfather. In 2007 we found an actual gay to be our Grand Marshall – John Amaechi, the first openly-gay former professional basketball player. In 2011 we found another one – Johnny Weir, the celebrated figure skater who smashed all the macho stereotypes of that profession. To be fair, I know how difficult it is to select the appropriate person to be our Grand Marshal. It’s not easy to find an openly gay person in Los Angeles; that’s why I’m still single.

Winston + Pride 2014-06-27 15.13

As the organizers of LA’s Pride Parade begin their search for next year’s Grand Marshal (may I suggest Vladimir Putin?), lock the doors, lower the blinds, fire up the smoke machine and put on your heels, because we’re gonna have a kiki. Dive, turn, werk.

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“I Have Heard The Future Of Rock And Roll, And It Is The Clash.”

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“I have heard the future of rock and roll, and it is The Clash.” I said that to my friend Laura. The year was 1986. The Clash had already broken up. Sometimes I’m fashionably late to the party.

The Clash released their self-titled debut album in 1977. At that time I was very much a Top 40/Disco kid, listening to KC & the Sunshine Band, The Bee Gees, Eagles, Leo Sayer, ABBA, Stevie Wonder, Barry Manilow and Fleetwood Mac, etc. I’d read about punk rockers in Rolling Stone and Billboard, with their spitting and complaining. No thank you!

I heard a few Clash songs in the few years that followed – their two US top 40 singles “Train in Vain” and “Rock the Casbah,” plus “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” I liked all of those, but assumed they were the exception. They didn’t sound like the way I read punk described.

In 1986 I was working at CBS Records. One of the perks was employees could order five records or tapes each month from the CBS Records catalogue. I got the entire Springsteen back catalogue and some Dylan releases. Eventually I got around to ordering The Clash’s catalogue. I read about them so often and the records were free, so why not?

Wow! London Calling was the most impressive and the one that led to my rave review to Laura. It was not at all what I expected. It was very melodic and very accessible, with a diverse range of styles. The other albums all had their moments, enough such moments that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their albums.

Let me amend that – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of their albums except Cut the Crap, released after Mick Jones left the band.

While I’m often way ahead of the general population on songs and artists that eventually gather wide acclaim, sometime I’m slow. The Clash was one of those times. And, in retrospect, I suppose I was a tad hyperbolic when I declared Men At Work to be the new Beatles.

Today Mick Jones of The Clash (and later Big Audio Dynamite) turns 59. Here are ten gems.

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I Love You! You’re So Vain! Have A Great Day!

At Sony, Warner and Zomba, I licensed recordings for inclusion in films, television programs, commercials, videogames, on compilation albums and as samples. Around ten years ago I added greeting cards to the list.

It was then that Hallmark and American Greetings started distributing greeting cards that play a song snippet when opened. Though one may think physical greeting cards had gone out of favor, enough of them sold that we made some nice extra cash from this avenue.

One day I got an email from Carly Simon. She had heard about these musical greeting cards and asked me to explain how the economics would work. “For example, how much would I make if you licensed ‘You’re So Vain’ for a greeting card?”

The question made me chuckle. For what occasion would “You’re So Vain” be an appropriate song to have in a greeting card? I made that observation to Carly and broke down the royalties should for some crazy reason that song be used.

A week later both Hallmark and American Greetings sent me requests to license “You’re So Vain” for in-card use. I’ll never know for what holiday they found this song expressed the right sentiment as it ended up not being used.

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One can give Carly Simon a musical greeting card today, as it is her 69th birthday. Here are ten of her best.

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The #21 Album Of All-Time

On December 1, 1983, my friend Bruce and I went to The Metro in Boston to see Cyndi Lauper perform. We had heard her debut solo single, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (which would debut on the Hot 100 a couple of weeks later) and were smitten. We were more smitten after the show.

The album that produced “Girls…,” She’s So Unusual, was one of those great pop records that we got so many of in that ’83-’84 period (Thriller, Purple Rain, Born in the USA, Private Dancer and Madonna, among them – all on my all-time favorite albums list). It was the first album by a female artist to produce four top five singles – “Girls…,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop” and “All Through the Night.” Like the aforementioned albums by Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner, it was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. All four albums lost to Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. No comment.

“Girls…” was nominated for Record of the Year and “Time After Time,” which Cyndi co-wrote, for Song of the Year; both lost to Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” which also won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female over the nominated “Girls….” Cyndi did win the Best New Artist Grammy, beating out Sheila E., Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Corey Hart and The Judds.

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Though not from the She’s So Unusual album, let’s talk about “True Colors” for a moment. The song was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the songwriting duo who also wrote Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Steinberg’s original lyrics were about his mother, but Kelly convinced him to make them more universal. Once they did that, they offered the song to Anne Murray, but she turned it down. Cyndi Lauper picked it up, changed the arrangement the duo presented, and a classic was born. The record went to #1 and won Lauper another Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

The song’s chorus, about not being afraid to let one’s true colors show, resonated with the gay population, and the song became an LGBT standard.

As June is Gay Pride month, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the work Cyndi has done on behalf of the LGBT populations:

– She’s written several songs about or inspired by LGBT lives, including “Boy Blue,” “Brimstone and Fire,” “Ballad of Cleo & Joe” and “Above the Clouds.”
– She was a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation board. The foundation’s namesake, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten and tied to a fence, left to die, because he was gay.
– In 2007 she launched the True Colors Tour, which raised money for the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, who advocate for equal rights for LGBT people. Other artists on the tour included Erasure, Deborah Harry, Gossip and Dresden Dolls.
– She advocated for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and was present at the White House when President Obama signed the Act into law in 2009. The Act expanded the 1969 US hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender people.
– She designed a t-shirt for 2009’s Fashion Against AIDS campaign.
– She is the cofounder of the True Colors Fund, created “to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness, and to inspire everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of equality for all.” In 2010 the Fund launched the Give a Damn Campaign to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students as well as discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace.
– Upon learning that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and that three times as many LGBT youth commit suicide as compared to their heterosexual counterparts, in 2012 Lauper started to Forty to None Project to raise awareness of the problems faced by LGBT youth and set up the True Colors Residence in New York City to offer shelter and aid for these kids.
– She was Grand Marshall of New York City’s Gay Pride Parade in 2012.
– She wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, based on the film about a straitlaced shoe factory owner and a drag queen who team up to save the business. The 2013 musical won the Tony Award for Best Score, making Lauper one of only four women to have won a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy.

Today one of the LGBT populations’ greatest allies, Cyndi Lauper, turns 61. Our playlist includes some of the tracks for my #21 album of all-time, She’s So Unusual, alongside some other Lauper favorites.

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A Hint Of Mint: The Kinks’ “Lola”

The Kinks were part of the British Invasion of 1964. Alongside UK bands such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Dave Clark Five, The Kinks scored eight US Top 40 singles between 1964 and 1966, including the classics “You Really Got Me” (#7, 1964), “All Day and All of the Night” (#7, 1965) and “Tired of Waiting for You” (#6, 1965). After “Sunny Afternoon” peaked at #14 in 1966, the hits dried up. Their highest-charting single in 1967 was “Dead End Street,” which reached #73. They didn’t place any singles on the Hot 100 in 1968 or 1969. Their fortunes reversed in 1970.

Per the book The Kinks: The Official Biography, the band’s lead singer and chief songwriter Ray Davies came up with a song after a night out with the group’s manager, Robert Wace. Wace spent the evening dancing with a woman he met, and told Davies he was falling for her. When morning rolled around Ray noticed the woman had stubble on her face. In the song, Ray plays the part of Wace and the “woman” is given the name Lola.

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The song’s narrator recounts his meeting Lola in a club where everything is not what it seems. The champagne tastes like Coca-Cola (the BBC forced Davies to change the reference from Coca-Cola to cherry cola so as to not violate their policy against product placement) and the dancing happens under electric candlelight. Amidst these ambiguities he meets Lola, a woman who squeezes him so tight she nearly breaks his spine. A woman who “walked like a woman and talked like a man”. Our narrator is confused but continues to dance with Lola, who invites him to go home with her. He is falling for her, which frightens him, so he heads for the exit. Then he has second thoughts, turn back to Lola, and their eyes lock. He decides “that’s the way that I want it to stay and I always want it to be that way for my Lola.”

Accepting his destiny, he observes “Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls. It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, except for Lola.” Lola knows exactly who he/she is.

We then learn that our narrator was a virgin who first left his home a week prior, to which Lola responds “Little boy, gonna make you a man.”

Then we get one of my favorite lyrics ever. The narrator sings “I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.” Lola is a man? Lola is glad the narrator is a man? The ambiguity of the character of Lola is reflected in the lyrics of “Lola.”

This is amazing songwriting. It is also amazing that this tale of a transvestite, not a popular song character today let alone in 1970, gave the Kinks their first huge hit in years and became an enduring staple of classic rock radio. The single went top ten in the United States and throughout Europe, hitting #1 in Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa. The song made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Today Ray Davies turns 70 years old. Here is some of his best work.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

In 2003, Rhino Entertainment moved me from New York City to Los Angeles to head up their Licensing department. I miss Manhattan’s energy and fashion sense and anything-at-any-hour way of life, but most of all, I miss my friends. And I miss our Bad Movie Days.

Not only do I love a good bad song; I also enjoy a good bad movie, as do a core group of my friends. We would meet at either my place or Kathy’s place every few Sundays and stay in, even if it was beautiful outside, and enjoy Glitter or Staying Alive or Body of Evidence, followed by a second feature, usually Showgirls.

Unlike a bad song, which I can enjoy in my solitude, a bad movie usually is more enjoyable with company. I’m not sure I would be able to sit through Skyscaper, in which Anna Nicole Smith starred as a hostage negotiator, if I didn’t have my friends with me to razz the screen, particularly during the scenes where Anna Nicole walked past an office and the film would dissolve to a flashback sequence of the time she had sex on that office’s desk.

I can enjoy a bad musical on my own. While my friends enjoyed Grease 2, with its extended production number about bowling, they were not as enamored as I am of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Still, when I watched Mamma Mia on HBO alone in my Los Angeles condo, I knew my friends would share my joy at this amazing cinematic feat, particularly when Pierce Brosnan sang “S.O.S.”

One of my favorite bad movies is Can’t Stop the Music. It stars the Village People. I’ll let that sink in before I go on. Ready? It also stars Bruce Jenner, in a cropped t-shirt and Daisy Dukes. And Steve Guttenberg and Valerie Perrine, with “special guests” (as they are billed in the credits) The Ritchie Family. The Ritchie Family, whose hits were “Best Disco in Town” and “Brazil,” get “special guest” billing. That’s how amazing this movie is. But wait, there’s more! The film was directed by Nancy Walker. Ida Morgenstern. Rosie, the Bounty Paper Towel shill. That Nancy Walker. Now you know you’re in for a treat.

Before I get into the movie, let me make clear that I LOVE The Village People, and not in a I love bad music way. I unabashedly enjoy their music. Not just the hits singles; there are Village People album cuts that have five stars in my iTunes library. I love this movie’s theme song.

As for the rest of the movie, well…. It’s sort of about the formation of the Village People, though 90 minutes into it you may ask “Will there be a plot anytime soon?” Then you’ll ask “Why is a Village People movie more than 90 minutes long?” We see the group’s auditions. I would have hired the guy in the blue jumpsuit who sang “Macho Man.” That said, I can’t deny the leatherman, whose profession we learn is toll collector at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (talk about a macho man!), sings a mean “Danny Boy.” We see the guys shoot a commercial for milk. We see..I’m going to lift a line from this movie’s Wikipedia entry – “Initially reluctant, Helen seduces Steve with her kreplach and before long they’re negotiating the T-shirt merchandising for the Japanese market.” We see them perform for an ecstatic crowd in San Francisco (oh, um, spoiler alert. That’s how it ends.) Best of all, we see a “Y.M.C.A.” production number as envisioned by Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams while vacationing on Fire Island.

Every Friday is dance music day on Tunes du Jour. Today we kick off the playlist with the timeless “Y.M.C.A.” Because it is still LGBT Pride Month, I made our dance party extra gay. Twirl!

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Paul McCartney And Me: Lives In Parallel

On October 24, 1963, The Beatles were in Stockholm, Sweden on the first day of their first foreign tour.

On October 24, 1963, I was born.

Both of these events turned out to be remarkably influential on the culture.

The Beatles, who synthesized American rock & roll with various British music traditions, moved popular music to a whole new place, expanding the types of song structures and lyrical content heard in the hit songs of the day and opening the floodgates for many British bands to prosper around the world.

Using the medium of stand-up comedy, I went to blue collar towns and meetings of Catholic senior citizens and told them of my travails same-sex dating. Just like the USA and Sweden and other parts of the world were exposed to what was happening in Liverpool, so were the people of Allentown, Pennsylvania exposed to what was happening in my love life, which believe me, wasn’t much. The Beatles and I opened peoples’ minds to a world beyond their own. They delivered their message to 55,000 people at Shea Stadium, while I delivered mine to a couple dozen folks at Bananas of Poughkeepsie. I also played to sold-out crowds at Caroline’s on Broadway and StandUp NY, but it’s not my nature to brag about such things. I’m the quiet Beatle.

On October 24, 1979, I turned 16 years old. That same day, Paul McCartney received a medallion commemorating his achievements in music. Having written or co-written 43 songs that sold over a million copies each between 1962 and 1978, he was named the most successful composer of all time. While working on the Licensing departments at Sony, Zomba and Warner, I licensed recordings to 43 Now That’s What I Call Music compilations that sold over a million copies each. It’s like Paul McCartney and I are twins.

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Today, Sir Paul McCartney (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997, something we don’t have in common. I am not a British citizen, and therefore not eligible.) turns 72 years old. The Beatles’ recordings are not on Spotify, so I’ve worked around that minor inconvenience to create this playlist of some of the finest songs McCartney composed or co-composed.

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Bad Songs I Love – “I Write The Songs”

The earliest known song in recorded history was performed by Eve. Not the rapper-actress whose hits include “Let Me Blow Your Mind” and “Gotta Man,” but a different Eve with no last name, the one who called the Garden of Eden home. Her song was “The Only Girl in the World,” later a hit for Rihanna. The song was written by Barry Manilow, as were “Let Me Blow Your Mind” and “Gotta Man.”

In 1976 the scientific community was rocked when Barry Manilow, in his #1 hit “I Write the Songs,” sang “I’ve been alive forever and I wrote the very first song.” A glance at his album cover photos allays any doubt as to the first part of that claim. “But how did you write that first song?,” the skeptics asked. Manilow replied “I put the words and the melodies together,” which was enough evidence to silence any doubters. He then proclaims “I am music.” He presents his case that he, Barry Manilow, wrote every song that has ever been written. Songs that make the whole world sing. Songs of love and special things. Things like a duck that loves disco and a heart that’s both achy and breaky.

In the song’s bridge Manilow sings how his “music makes you dance,” and really, who doesn’t get down to “Mandy?” He also says he “wrote some rock-and-roll,” referring to his hit “Can’t Smile Without You,” which rocks harder than anything by The Carpenters or Air Supply.

Then we get the one-two punch of “Music fills the heart / Well, that’s a real fine place to start” followed by “It’s from me, it’s for you / It’s from you, it’s for me / It’s a worldwide symphony.” Granted, those aren’t the greatest lyrics, but the man wrote 623,524,325 songs, so cut him some slack!

Now is a good time to mention that Barry Manilow did not write “I Write the Songs.” As a matter of fact, Barry Manilow did not write any of his three number one singles, the other two being “Mandy” and “Looks Like We Made It.” Manilow did write a acne medication jingle, a toilet cleaner jingle, and “Copacabana.”

“I Write the Songs” was written by Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys. He recorded the tune into a cassette and submitted it to a Japanese music festival, who rejected it as being unsuitable.
Undeterred, Johnston played the tune for a couple of friends who worked with The Beach Boys, Daryl “The Captain” Dragon and Toni Tennille. The Captain & Tennille included the song on their 1975 debut album Love Will Keep Us Together.

That same year Johnston produced an album for David Cassidy entitled The Higher They Climb, on which Cassidy took a stab at the song. (I know – Barry Manilow, The Captain & Tennille and David Cassidy! This is a glorious Bad Music I Love trifecta!) Cassidy’s version hit #11 on the UK singles chart in August of ’75.

That summer, Clive Davis, the chief of Arista Records, Manilow’s label, was in London and heard the Cassidy record on the radio. He suggested the song to Manilow. Manilow liked the song but was reluctant to record it. As he wrote in his autobiography Sweet Life, “The problem with the song was that if you didn’t listen carefully to the lyric, you would think that the singer was singing about himself. It could be misinterpreted as a monumental ego trip.”

I listened to the lyrics very carefully and can tell you that based on my multiple listens (and an interview with Bruce Johnston I read), the “I” in “I Write the Songs” is God. See that? The song is someone claiming to speak for God. Nothing egotistical about that! God wrote all the songs that make the whole world sing. This leads to the profoundly earth-shattering realization that God wrote “My Humps.” Praise be Him!

“I Write the Songs” won Johnston the 1976 Grammy Award for Song of the Year over such worthwhile nominees as “Afternoon Delight,” “Breaking is Hard to Do” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The Beach Boys never won a Grammy. The man who wrote most of the songs for The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, won his first Grammy in 2005 – Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.” Was that his most award-worthy contribution to popular music? The “I” of “I Write the Songs” has the answer to that question, but He’s not telling. I guess God only knows.

Winston + Barry 2014-06-17

Today the man(ilow) who claims to have been alive forever turns 71. Here are some of my favorites from his oeuvre.

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