Monthly Archives: November 2014

Punks And Lesbians

In the early days of London’s punk rock movement, around 1976, there were no punk clubs per se, so the punks needed somewhere to congregate where they can be who they are and dress how they dress without fear of being hassled. They found such a place at Club Louise, a lesbian bar that also welcomed gay men and punks, just off Oxford Street in London’s Soho district. Billy Idol hung out there every night. Other regulars included Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Siouxsie Sioux, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood, members of The Clash and members of The Slits. Writes Billy Idol in his recently-released autobiography Dancing With Myself, “[Louise’s] was a much-needed haven. Back then, the way we dressed would have started a riot if we had set foot in any normal club or pub.”

Idol discusses Louise’s as ground zero for the punks’ plans. “We all congregated there, drinking and socializing, plotting our rebellion. It was our midnight meeting place, our sanctuary. We all walked the same path at that time. Many of the classic-rock bands talked about musicianship but had little to offer us, the disenfranchised and disenchanted… As the gay ladies danced and loved one another, we devised our plans and consolidated a movement. By being like-minded, we ruled the night. We would rock London to its core. The lesbian bar was our spiritual ‘upper room,’ and we, the new aristocracy of the poor, knighted with fire, sallied forth and followed Johnny Rotten into the unknown!”

New York City’s punk scene was similar. Club 82, a drag queen/transsexual bar, was one of the few public places where punks could perform in the early to mid-1970s. The club always welcomed the outcasts, so the punks were part of the family. Other gay bars opened their doors to punks as well. These not only were places that accepted those who are “different;” gay bars also were places where people could experiment with their appearance.

Idol explains the bond between the punk rockers and the LGBT populations by quoting a figure from American history. “Benjamin Franklin once offered advice to his fellow revolutionaries: ‘We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.’ We were a small group of people bored with the repeated clichés of modern life and its stagnant, putrid waters. That is what brought us — and ultimately bonded us — together.”

Ringo + Billy Idol
Today Billy Idol turns 59 years old. Here are twenty career highlights.

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It’s Berry Gordy’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

It’s interesting that Berry Gordy, the head of Motown Records who in 1970 told his top male vocalist Marvin Gaye that the new song Gaye had written, “What’s Going On,” was “the worst thing I ever heard in my life” and that he shouldn’t do protest songs, would five years later have Motown be the first major label to release a pro-gay anthem.

Bunny Jones, a heterosexual Christian woman, owned several beauty salons in Harlem. Most of her employees were gay. Seeing how they needed to suppress their natural selves and being aware of the issues they faced, she wrote song lyrics about a man who says he’s “happy, carefree and gay,” the way God made him.

Set to music written by Chris Spierer, also straight, Jones looked for a male vocalist to record her song. After catching a performance of Hair at the Westbury Music Fair, she approached one of the show’s actors, Charles “Valentino” Harris, and told him of the song.

In 1975, at age 22, Valentino recorded his only record, a single entitled “I Was Born This Way.” Jones released it on a label she started, named Gaiee. On her own she sold 15,000 copies of the song. This got the attention of Berry Gordy, whose Motown Records picked up the single for distribution.

Valentino’s record got some club play, particularly in the UK where it was a #1 disco hit.

Two years later Motown approached a gospel singer named Carl Bean and asked him if he would record a new version of “I Was Born This Way.” Unbeknownst to Motown, Bean was gay. In early 1978, Bean’s version of the tune reached #15 on the Billboard Disco chart.

The song has since become something of a classic. Two years after Bean’s success with “I Was Born This Way,” Motown released Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” It would hold the #1 position on the Disco chart for five weeks and have much crossover success at pop and r&b radio as well.

Today Berry Gordy celebrates his 85th birthday. Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour. Here are twenty of Motown’s best disco/dance tracks from the 1970s thru 1990.

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“River Deep – Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner

Winston + Turners
By 1966, the recording duo Ike & Tina Turner and the record producer Phil Spector could use a turnaround in their luck.

Ike & Tina Turner’s first hit song was 1960’s “A Fool in Love.” Two more top forty pop and four more r&b top ten hits followed over the next couple of years.

Phil Spector’s first hit as a producer was The Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” a #1 pop single in 1958. Over the next seven years Phil Spector produced twenty-five top 40 pop hits, including such classics as The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Unchained Melody,” The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes.”

Fast forward to late 1965. Ike & Tina Turner’s last top 40 pop hit was “Poor Fool,” which peaked at #38 in early 1962. It went top ten on the r&b chart, as did its follow-up, “Tra La La La,” but successive singles failed to do as well.

Despite scoring four top ten singles on Spector’s Philles Records, The Righteous Brothers sued the producer/record company head to get off the label, saying their contract was unenforceable. It was announced in early 1966 that the duo signed with another label. Their first single for that label, Verve, was a #1 hit – “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” Spector lost his star attraction, and the other acts in his stable had lost luster. The Ronettes’ most recent top 40 hit was 1964’s “Walking in the Rain.” The Crystals’ most recent top 40 hit was 1963’s “Then He Kissed Me.”

In 1965 the Ike & Tina Turner Revue performed The Galaxy in Los Angeles. In the audience was Phil Spector. He loved their act and booked them to appear on The Big TNT Show, a televised concert for which he was the associate producer and musical director. Also appearing on the program were The Byrds, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Donovan, Joan Baez, Petula Clark, and Roger Miller.

Spector was taken by Tina’s performance. “I said, God, if I could make a number-one record with her she could go on Ed Sullivan, she could go to Las Vegas; she could break the color barrier.” At the time, Ike & Tina were singed to Loma Records, a division of Warner Brothers Records. None of their releases hit the pop charts. Spector negotiated a release from their Loma contract. Spector wanted Tina, not Ike, so he paid Loma $20,000 to buy out the duo’s contract, on the condition that Ike stay away from the studio while Tina recorded. Ike accepted this offer, with the stipulation that the resulting record still be credited to Ike & Tina Turner.

To come up with a suitable song, Spector turned to the husband and wife songwriting team of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who, with Spector, wrote “Be My Baby” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” and also wrote “Leader of the Pack” (with Shadow Morton) and “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.” CORRECTION: former husband and wife songwriting team – Barry and Greenfield divorced in December 1965, just a few weeks before Spector asked them to write a song for Tina.

Though freshly-divorced, they both came to the table, each with a different unfinished song. The combination of the three songs resulted in “River Deep – Mountain High,” with the melody of the verses coming from Greenwich, the melody of the chorus coming from Spector, and most of the lyrics coming from Barry.

The first of five recording sessions for the single was in February 1966. Hanging out in the control room were a couple of folks you may have heard of – Mick Jagger and Brian Wilson. To achieve his vision Spector used 21 background vocalists and 21 musicians, including Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Hal Blaine. The completed record cost around $22,000 to make. Said Bob Krasnow, the head of Loma Records, “In those days, you could make five albums for twenty thousand dollars. And this was just a single – one side of a single.”

After years with Ike Turner, Tina must have been relieved to be able to go into the studio without Ike and with Phil Spector, a man who treated women with respect – scratch that thought. In her autobiography, I, Tina, she recounts a recording session with Spector. “That intro – ‘When I was a little girl…’ – I must have sung that five hundred thousand times, and I don’t know if I ever got it just the way he wanted it. I would sing it, and he would say, ‘That’s very close, very close. We’ll try it again.’ I don’t remember him saying, ‘Got it.’ Pretty soon, I was drenched with sweat. I had to take off my shirt and stand there in my bra to sing, that’s how hard I was working on that song.”

A River Deep – Mountain High album, with a cover photo taken by a broke Hollywood actor named Dennis Hopper, wouldn’t be released until 1969. However, the “River Deep – Mountain High” single came out in the United States on May 14, 1966. It entered the Hot 100 at #98. A week later it was #94. One week after that #93. The next week it rose to #88.

And that was it. The record that was to be the triumphant return of Ike & Tina Turner and Phi Spector stayed on the chart for only four weeks. Looking back, Tina concluded “It was too black for the pop stations, and too pop for the black stations.” Ike agreed.

After the single’s failure, Spector became a semi-recluse. It would be three years before another Phil Spector’s production was on the Hot 100.

In the United Kingdom, however, it was a different story. “River Deep – Mountain High” peaked at #3 there. George Harrison called it “a perfect record from start to finish – you couldn’t improve on it.” Harrison would later have Spector co-produce his All Things Must Pass album, which included the classic “My Sweet Lord.”

In praising Tina, Mick Jagger said “’River Deep-Mountain High’ was an excellent record because she had the voice to get out in front of Phil Spector’s so-called wall of sound.” The Rolling Stones invited Ike & Tina to open for them on their tour that began in the autumn of 1966.

In 1999, “River Deep – Mountain High” was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone magazine put it at #33 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Tina Turner turns 75 today. Here are twenty career highlights, kicking off with the classic “River Deep – Mountain High.”

Read more about Tina Turner here.

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It’s Björk’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

“I think everyone’s bisexual to some degree or another; it’s just a question of whether or not you choose to recognize it and embrace it. Personally, I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You’d be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavors.”
– Björk, Diva Magazine, October 2004

I love cake, but I prefer ice cream. I’m not into vanilla – it’s too…vanilla. I’ll eat it if there are no other options, but I prefer chocolate. I could eat a big dish of chocolate ice cream every night and never tire of it.

However, my favorite flavor is chocolate chip mint. Everything is better with a hint of mint. Chocolate and mint together? If one has that at home there is no reason to ever leave the house.

Dulce de leche is next on my list. Mmm mmm. That sweet caramel makes my tongue so damn happy! Throw a little hot fudge and whipped cream on top and it’s the perfect late night snack to enjoy before dozing off to sleep.

While I prefer ice cream, I enjoy going to a good bakery to check out the cakes. As with ice cream, I love the chocolate cakes. (“Chocolate Cake,” by the way, is the title of an underrated song by Crowded House.)

I like many cakes, but I don’t care for fruity ones. I’m not referring to fruitcake. I have no idea what a fruitcake is; it’s something I’ve heard used as a punchline on Christmas specials, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one in real life. I’m referring to cakes that have jelly in them, or strawberries or anything else that may be construed as healthy. It’s a friggin’ cake! Don’t be getting your healthy fruits mixed up in my cake. A banana is welcome, but that’s it. Chocolate and banana is a combination I love. Add a hint of mint and I’m all set.

Ringo + Björk
Today Björk turns 49 years old. Celebrate with some cake and ice cream. Our weekly dance party kicks off with her first post-Sugarcubes single, “Human Behaviour.”

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Glenn’s Ten (11-18-14)

Greetings, readers! Today we check in with Glenn’s Ten, the list of my ten favorite current songs at this moment.

There are no changes in my top three. For the third week in a row, Tove Lo is at #1 with “Habits,” Banks is at #2 with “Beggin for Thread,” and George Ezra is #3 with “Budapest.” Entering this week’s top ten is Father John Misty’s “Bored in the USA” at #4, Les Sins’ “Bother” at #5, and Belle & Sebastian’s “The Party Line” at #8. This is the first time in Glenn’s Ten for Misty and Les Sins (who also records under the name Toro y Moi). I haven’t published Glenn’s Ten in the blog for a few weeks, so there are a few other songs that will appear to be new entries to those of you keeping score at home.

Here is Glenn’s Ten for this week:
1 – “Habits (Stay High)” – Tove Lo
2 – “Beggin for Thread” – Banks
3 – “Budapest” – George Ezra
4 – “Bored in the U.S.A.” – Father John Misty
5 – “Bother” – Les Sins
6 – “Inside Out” – Spoon
7 – “Let Me Down Easy” – Paolo Nutini
8 – “The Party Line” – Belle & Sebastian
9 – “Cedar Lane” – First Aid Kit
10 – “Low Key” – Tweedy

Today’s playlist are the above ten tracks followed by ten songs that were #1 on this date in Glenn’s Ten history.

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Who Is Little Willie John?

“If any one person invented soul singing it was Little Willie John.”
– Peter Shapiro, The Rough Guide to Soul and R&B

Ringo + Little Willie John

William Edward John was born on this day in 1937. As a child he sang with his family in a gospel quintet. At age 13 he hooked up with Johnny Otis’ band and for the next few years he performed with various bands, his misbehaving resulting in his getting kicked out.

In 1955, at age 17, he was signed by King Records. Said label head Henry Glover “I heard Little Willie John at 5 o’clock and I was so impressed with him that at 8 o’clock I had musicians in the studio and I recorded him.”

Though he had considerable insecurity about his height, his records were released under the name Little Willie John. His first single, “All Around the World,” was a top five r&b hit in 1955.

The following year John released the original version of “Fever.” While it became a bigger pop hit for Peggy Lee in 1958, John’s version hit #24 on the pop chart and spent five weeks at #1 on r&b chart. Following its success John went on tour as a headliner. His opening act was the up-and-coming James Brown & His Famous Flames.

For a few years the hits kept coming, but in the early sixties, as his records became more pop-oriented and drenched in strings, sales declined. The lack of sales coupled with John’s alcoholism led to his being dropped by King in 1963.

In August 1964, John was arrested for attacking a man with a broken bottle. Two months later, at a house party, Little Willie got into a fight with a 200 lb. six-foot-tall ex-convict named Kevin Roundtree. Roundtree punched John in the face. John got up from the floor and stabbed Roundtree, killing him. Following a trial and appeals, John was sentenced to eight to twenty years for manslaughter. He entered prison in the summer of 1966.

While in prison John fell ill and was confined to a wheelchair. On May 26, 1958, while in jail, he died of a heart attack at age 30.

His singing influenced James Brown and Prince, among others. His recordings have been covered by The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Jack White and the Allman Brothers. He was referenced by Robbie Robertson on his 1987 song “”Somewhere Down the Crazy River.”

In 1966 Little Willie John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Now that you know a little about the man, check out today’s playlist.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

There was an article on the site Gawker yesterday about a woman named Zoe Fennessy who, when she hears the music of Ne-Yo, “freezes up and begins vomiting uncontrollably.” You may say the same thing happens to you when you listen to Nickelback, but Ms. Fennessy’s reaction to Ne-Yo’s music is due to a rare medical condition called musicogenic epilepsy.

Some of you may be saying “Who’s Ne-Yo? Is he/she/they someone whose music gets played a lot?” The answer is, apparently. Since his first hit in 2006 (“So Sick,” which went to #1 on the US and UK pop charts), Ne-Yo has had 17 top forty hits on the US pop chart and a half-dozen more on the r&b chart. He has had just as many hits in the UK, where Fennessy lives.

Ne-Yo isn’t the only artist to cause seizures in people with this condition. Around ten years ago there was a report of a six-month-old who had seizures when she heard The Beatles. The Beatles! That shit ain’t right, yo. One may get a reaction from all classical music, another from the lower notes played on a brass instrument.

The reactions people with the condition have vary as well. Some have convulsions, others become incontinent, and others become incredibly sleepy.

Ms. Fennessy had part of her brain removed to try and cure the problem, but the operation was not a success. She still needs to steer clear of Ne-Yo’s music.

Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour, and if Ms. Fennessy is reading, she’ll be happy to know there is no Ne-Yo on today’s playlist, which kicks off with the Jason Nevins remix of “It’s Like That” by Run-D.M.C., whose Joseph “Run” Simmons turns 50 today.

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Neil Young’s Homophobia and AIDS-phobia

“You go to a supermarket and you see a faggot behind the fuckin’ cash register, you don’t want him to handle your potatoes.” – Neil Young in Melody Maker, September 1985

It sucks when anybody makes an ignorant and offensive statement, particularly when it’s somebody the public eye. For this post I‘ll focus on homophobia (and related AIDS-phobia).

It sucks when Pat Boone says children are being “indoctrinated with an appreciation for homosexuality,” but that didn’t hurt me too much as Pat Boone is a talentless has-been who built his career on taking songs recorded by Little Richard and Fats Domino and making them safe for uptight white folks. I wasn’t his target audience (notwithstanding that I wasn’t born yet when he rose to fame).

It sucks when Donny Osmond says he condemns homophobia and opposes gay marriage, but at least he’s (inadvertently) condemning himself, thereby saving me the trouble. Also, he’s marginally more talented and slightly less of a has-been than Pat Boone, and while I love “Morning Side of the Mountain,” if someone told me I had to delete all Osmonds recordings from my iTunes library, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

It sucks that Eminem’s new song has the lyric “Happy as Anderson Cooper having a tuba crammed in his pooper.” It’s not so much that it’s homophobic per se. It’s that a 42-year-old feels he has to resort to such juvenilia to feel relevant and not see his career go the way of Pat Boone and Donny Osmond. He doesn’t need to stoop to this. He still sells truckloads of records, despite having made only one or two good singles in the past decade. He could probably keep coasting for a while. And seriously, a tuba? That doesn’t even rhyme.

It sucks that The Beastie Boys wanted to title their first album Don’t Be a Faggot, with a couple of song lyrics that were interpreted as homophobic. However, in 1999 the trio’s Ad-Rock sent a letter to Time Out New York that read “I would like to … formally apologize to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record, 1986′s Licensed to Ill. There are no excuses. But time has healed our stupidity. … We hope that you’ll accept this long overdue apology.”

It’s odd that director Jonathan Demme reached out to Neil Young to compose and record a theme song for his 1993 film Philadelphia. Demme told The Toledo Blade that the film was “intended to reach an audience in desperate need of sensitization on the issue of homophobia. We thought how the right movie could help young males – the most rigid of all – open up to the humanity and courage of gay people. So I had this idea that I would start it off with a giant Neil Young guitar anthem and it would relax all the young uptight homophobic guys.” So he asked a guy who thought AIDS was spread via potatoes touched by faggots. Young recorded a song for the film, and while it wasn’t the anthem Demme was expecting (Bruce Springsteen ended up providing that), it fit the film well and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, which it lost to Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”

I don’t recall Neil Young ever apologizing for his boneheaded homophobic and AIDS-phobic remarks; however, I don’t recall him making similar statements since the mid-eighties, and that may be better than an apology.

In his 2002 biography of Neil Young, Shakey, Jimmy McDonough writes “I had found out that Young was planning on donating the proceeds from the ‘Philadelphia’ track to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis center. He acknowledged it was true but didn’t seem anxious to publicize the fact. I got the feeling there were other chartable acts I didn’t know about. ‘I’m not trying to score any social points,’ he said.”

Today Neil Young turns 69 years old. Here are twenty career highlights. (NOTE – “Philadelphia” is not on Spotify.)

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God Gives Andy Partridge A Hit Of XTC

In 1986 the English band XTC recorded their eighth studio album Skylarking with producer Todd Rundgren. The first single released from the album was “Grass.” The b-side of that 45 was a previously-unreleased track that was recorded for but at the request of group member Andy Partridge did not appear on the album.

Inspired by a series of books containing letters children wrote to God, Partridge, who was “wrestling with the tail end of my belief when I wrote [the song],” composed lyrics based on a child’s letter to God in which His existence is questioned. He had the nine-year-old daughter of a friend of Rundgren sing the opening verse, telling God about the people who are starving because God doesn’t give them enough food, ending with the line “I can’t believe in you.”

Partridge then takes over the lead vocals, asking Him “Did you make disease?” and “Did you make mankind after we made you?” He tells Him “don’t know if you noticed but your name is on a lot of quotes in this book / Us crazy humans wrote it; you should take a look,” and repeats the line “I can’t believe in you,” adding “I don’t believe in” and “I won’t believe in.”

Believers wouldn’t be the only ones who didn’t like the song. Partridge didn’t like it, saying “it wasn’t as caustic as I would’ve liked it to be.” He also said “It is such a big subject and I’ve been wrestling with it for years, but how can you cover it in three and half minutes?” Because he didn’t think he did the subject matter justice, Partridge, who wrote the lyrics in 1985, asked that it not be included on the Skylarking album.

Surprisingly, particularly for a b-side by a pretty much unknown group in a very religious country, “Dear God” started to get radio airplay in the US. A music video was made and Partridge agreed to let the song be added to the album.

The new version of Skylarking sold 250,000 copies in the US and “Dear God” made the top 40 of the Album Rock chart.

Winston + XTC
Andy Partridge turns 61 today. Here are ten of XTC’s finest.

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It’s Miranda Lambert’s Birthday And I Need To Slow Down!

“‘Automatic’ is a song about the good life. It’s about slowing down, taking a breath and remembering what it’s like to live life a little more simply. It’s not about going back, but reminiscing about what it was like to hang laundry on the line and wait for it to dry and my dad teaching me how to drive my ’55 Chevy that I still have but don’t drive nearly enough…The song brings back good memories and it reminds me to take a deep breath and to remember that getting there is half the fun.” – Miranda Lambert

Today Miranda Lambert turns 31. Here are ten of her finest.

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