A Pharrell Williams Playlist

In 2001 HBO aired a Britney Spears concert around the time Jive Records released the singer’s album Britney. A few days before the first promo for the concert was to run on HBO, Jive’s head of publicity had the idea that Britney’s then-brand new single “I’m a Slave 4 U” should be used in the promo spots. The song was written (and produced) by the team of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. I was running the licensing department at Jive at that time. I went to Pharrell and Chad’s publishers, EMI, to secure the necessary permissions. It was on a Wednesday. The spot was scheduled to premier the coming Saturday. The person at EMI with whom I spoke told me the song is so new that it is not yet in their system, and therefore she couldn’t license it. “Can’t you just add it to your system? You know they’re signed to your company.” “No. You won’t be able to use the song.”

Oh, really? A song cannot be licensed simply because someone at that company can’t think outside the box and figure out a way to effect the deal before the usual ingestion process is complete? That explanation doesn’t work for me. EMI will forego a license fee if the song isn’t used, which is fine, as their employee is the one not allowing it. Also, standing to forego revenue? Pharrell and Chad, who rely on EMI to make the deals for their music so they can get paid.

I called the Jive executive who paired Pharrell and Chad with Britney and told him EMI’s stance. He called Pharrell and/or Chad. Pharrell and/or Chad called EMI. On Thursday I got EMI’s approval to proceed. Don’t tell me something can’t be done.

Producer/Songwriter/NERD Pharrell Williams turns 47 today. In his honor I present to you this playlist of thirty songs Pharrell, often with Chad Hugo, had a hand in writing and/or producing and/or performing. You may be surprised at how many of these you know.

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A Philly Soul Playlist

Not all records classified as Philly Soul come from Philadelphia-based artists, though all share characteristics – orchestral string arrangements married to rhythm and blues with a funk influence that bridged the way toward disco. Here are thirty examples of the genre, with the songwriting-production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff working on the lion’s share of these releases.

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Throwback Thursday: 1964

Nobody would deny that 1964 was among the most pivotal years in rock and roll. Nobody except Lester, a guy I worked with decades ago. He was an idiot. The Beatles and the other artists who stormed the US pop charts during the first British Invasion made an indelible impact on contemporary music and culture. Motown was ascending and producing classic singles. Girl groups were still hanging around creating pop perfection. Bob Dylan was making himself known, messing with the vocals one expected on a hit record. And Dionne Warwick was already the queen of Twitter.

Here are thirty songs that partly defined 1964. Take note, Lester.

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An Eric Clapton Playlist

Today is Eric Clapton’s birthday. What should I write about? His perceived racism? As he told a concert audience in 1976, “Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white.” In Clapton’s 2007 autobiography, cleverly entitled Clapton: The Autobiography, Clapton says of that outburst “Since then I have learned to keep my opinions to myself.” Okay, that’s one lesson. Any other lessons, blues guitarist whose first top ten hit under his name was a reggae cover?

Nah, I’m not going to write about Eric Clapton’s perceived racism. I’ll write about how much I hate the song “Wonderful Tonight.” “You look wonderful tonight.” Last night you looked like shit. And you’ll probably look like shit again tomorrow. I know I said I feel wonderful tonight, but truth is I have a headache, so drive me home, woman! He’s a catch.

You know what? I’m not going to talk about that, either. Instead I’ll tell you about the time I went to one of Eric Clapton’s homes in England. I met with his manager there in the early part of this century. In the room where we chatted were Eric’s Grammy Awards. Some were on a bookshelf, some were on the floor next to the couch. They weren’t arranged in any way. They lay there haphazardly, as if nobody had time to put them back in their proper place since the earthquake hit in 1990. I wish I had a photo taken of me holding his Grammys, but I didn’t. I acted in a professional manner. I hate that about myself. Beats being perceived as racist, though.

Here are thirty career highlights of Eric Clapton:

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Throwback Thursday: 1971

I recently read a book about the music of 1971. It was pretty bad. I should have been clued off seeing that the book derived its title from the name of a Rod Stewart album that came out in…1972. The author and I agree that 1971 was a great year for music, though he focused mainly on white acts. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, recently named the number one album of all-time in Rolling Stone, was dismissed as being overrated due to white guilt, something the author clearly doesn’t feel. I humbly suggest that the playlist below shows more of the greatness (and diversity) of 1971’s music than this book.

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