A B-52’s Playlist

“Rock Lobster” appears on The B-52’s debut album, released in 1979. It was the group’s first single to make the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #56. One person who heard the track was a retired John Lennon. He heard the obvious influence of his wife’s music on the track, particularly in some of the vocal mannerisms employed by the B-52’s Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson. This inspired him to come out of retirement and record a new album with Yoko Ono. Their Double Fantasy album was released in 1980.

Here are 30 songs from The B-52’s including some extracurricular activities.

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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (2-24-21)

Celebrating the February 24 birthdays of N.E.R.D.‘s Chad Hugo, Manfred Mann’s Paul Jones, Earl Sweatshirt, M People’s Mike Pickering, Rupert Holmes, Plastic Bertrand, George Thorogood, Barry Bostwick, Joanie Sommers, and 16 Horsepower’s David Eugene Edwards; the February 23 birthdays of Josh Gad, Japan’s David Sylvian, and Aziz Ansari; and the February 22 birthdays of Marni Nixon, Sublime’s Brad Nowell, Ernie K-Doe, Bobby Hendricks, Oliver and Guy Mitchell.

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A Nina Simone Playlist

“I’ll be Nina Simone and defecating on your microphone.” So rapped Ms. Lauryn Hill on Fugees’ “Ready Or Not.” As several of my friends could tell you, I tend to take things literally. I didn’t know much about Nina Simone at the time this Fugees single was released. All I knew is that she was a singer from the past who while on stage performing, apparently, would defecate on her microphone. I thought “Who wants to see that shit?” I bought Ms. Simone’s autobiography last year, in part to find out if she discusses this unusual show ritual, though I haven’t yet had the chance to read it. In preparing this post I looked up the “Ready or Not” lyrics on genius.com, where I learned that the lyric seemingly about Nina Simone’s defecation works in tandem with the line before it, which is “So while you imitating Al Capone.” What this means is that while other rappers are celebrating and emulating the life and crimes of a white gangster, Ms. Hill will aspire to follow in the footsteps of a great Black cultural artist. In other words, Nina Simone did not actually defecate while performing. Ms. Lauryn Hill did.

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A Nirvana Playlist

Kurt Cobain (b. February 20, 2967) was dating Tobi Vail of the band Bikini Kill. Vail wore Teen Spirit perfume. One drunken night Kurt’s friend and Vail’s bandmate Kathleen Hanna wrote “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on Kurt’s bedroom wall. Kurt wasn’t aware of the perfume; he thought Hanna was commenting on the revolutionary spirit of youth. You know what happened next.

Here are 29 of Nirvana’s best, plus a bonus cut inspired by the group’s success.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7uHx10YKXyOIIH7YYx6dni?si=3ac5d663c3074d7c

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A Smokey Robinson Playlist

In 1966, Stevie Wonder and Motown producer Hank Cosby wrote a piece of music and recorded it. Wonder couldn’t come up with any lyrics to go with the music, so he gave a tape of the song to fellow Motown singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson to see if he could come up with something. The music reminded Smokey of the circus, so he free associated and came up with the image of a clown. That reminded him of a story he heard as a child – the story of the opera Pagliacci, about clowns who must cover up their sadness, as their jobs required them to entertain and elate the public. Based on this idea he wrote the words to the song that became “The Tears of a Clown.” He and his group The Miracles recorded the song. Smokey didn’t think much of it, though it was included as the last song on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen. Two singles were released from that album – “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” which reached #20, and “More Love,” which reached #23.

In 1969, tired of touring, Smokey told his group The Miracles that he would be retiring from the group so he could stay at home with his family and focus on his job as a Vice President at Motown. That same year, a reissue of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears” made the top ten in the UK. Though the group had many chart hits in the US, “Tracks…” was only their second song to crack the top 40 of the UK singles chart, following “I Second That Emotion” a year earlier. Motown Britain wished to capitalize on the late but growing fame. Learning there was no new material forthcoming from the group, the label asked the head of a UK Motown fan club if she had any suggestions for a Miracles song that would make a good single. She suggested the last cut on the group’s 1967 album Make It Happen.

In 1970, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “The Tears of a Clown” went to #1 in the UK. Seeing its success, Motown US released the song as a single stateside, albeit with a slightly updated mix. “The Tears of a Clown” became Smokey Robinson & The Miracles only #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (though The Miracles would hit #1 one more time following Smokey’s departure from the group.)

(Some bonus trivia: Stevie Wonder was initially brought to the attention of Motown Records by Miracles member Ronnie White.)

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the 81st birthday of Smokey Robinson with a playlist of songs he sang and/or wrote, plus a tribute song, kicking off with “The Tears of a Clown.”

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Throwback Thursday: 1976

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist focuses on 1976. It’s easy to remember some of the cheesier songs to make the pop chart (I’ve included examples of those), though there were a lot of great hits as well. Disco was still growing in popularity and having an influence on r&b and pop music. Punk rock was now on major labels, though it wouldn’t influence the pop chart for a while. Pick out the gems of 1976’s output and you’ll have a nice selection of tunes, as evidenced below.

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