Elton John has often professed his love for rhythm and blues music. Today’s playlist consists of soul or r&b covers of songs composed by Sir Elton.
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You may not know their names, but you know many of their songs. Individually, but more often as a team, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote and/or produced a lot of timeless classic songs in the soul music genre. They were the pre-eminent rhythm and blues architects of the first half of the 1970s, and their production style paved the way for disco, before that genre got watered down. Plenty of their records found their way to the top of the pop charts as well.
Today is Kenny Gamble’s 75th birthday. To celebrate, Tunes du Jour presents a playlist of twenty great Gamble and Huff sides.
Per the email I received from Spotify in mid-December, my most-streamed track of 2016 was Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” While that is a great song, I don’t recall playing it more than once or twice this year. However, I did spend hours listening to music by those taken from us by the Grim Reaper. I’m not the only person to feel incredible sadness at the seemingly non-stop loss of great talents, which started on New Year’s Day when we heard the report that Natalie Cole died the day before.
With this playlist I want to celebrate the contributions these folks made to our lives and our culture. If I missed someone, forgive me. There were a lot of folks to remember.
Before we get to the Spotify playlist, videos from two whose music is not on Spotify.
Thank you for enriching my life:
Glenn Frey (of Eagles)
Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay)
Maurice White (of Earth, Wind and Fire)
Carrie Fisher (actress best known for Star Wars)
Paul Kantner (of Jefferson Airplane)
Signe Toly Anderson (of Jefferson Airplane)
Sir George Martin (record producer best known for his work with The Beatles)
Attrell “Prince Be” Cordes (of P.M. Dawn)
Garry Marshall (television/film director/producer/writer, creator of Happy Days)
Pete Burns (of Dead or Alive)
Alan Vega (of Suicide)
Don Ciccone (of The Four Seasons)
Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Greg Lake (of Emerson, Lake and Palmer)
Steven Young (of M/A/R/R/S)
Joan Marie Johnson (of The Dixie Cups)
Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor (of A Tribe Called Quest)
Bernie Worrell (of Parliament)
Gary Paxton (of The Hollywood Argyles)
Rick Parfitt (of Status Quo)
Mack Rice (songwriter whose credits include “Respect Yourself”)
Milt Okun (record producer best known for his work with John Denver)
Marni Nixon (singer/actress best known for dubbing the singing voices of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady)
Rod Temperton (of Heatwave)
John Chelew (record producer best known for his work with John Hiatt)
Nicholas Caldwell (of The Whispers)
Trisco Pearson (of Force MDs)
Gayle McCormick (of Smith)
Gary Loizzo (of American Breed)
Paul Upton (of The Spiral Starecase)
Carlo Mastrangelo (of The Belmonts)
Fred Tomlinson (co-writer of “Lumberjack Song”)
John D. Loudermilk
Zsa Zsa Gabor
On May 31, President Obama issued a proclamation declaring June 2016 as African American Music Appreciation Month. The designation has actually been around since 1979, when President Carter commemorated the cultural and financial contributions of music made by African Americans at a reception at the White House. Back then it was Black Music Month, an idea conceived by music industry executive and radio personality Dyana Williams and her husband, Kenny Gamble.
You may not know Gamble’s name, but you know his music. The co-founder of Philadelphia International Records with Leon Huff, Gamble and his music partner have written and produced hits for Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations, Dusty Springfield, the Jacksons, the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Jerry Butler, Archie Bell and the Drells, the Three Degrees, Joe Simon, MFSB, Billy Paul, the Soul Survivors, Teddy Pendergrass, the Intruders, Lou Rawls, People’s Choice and the Jones Girls.
Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party celebrates African American Music Appreciation Month with twenty dance floor packers, kicking off with a few of Gamble and Huff’s gems.
Willie Mitchell, the producer of Al Green’s string of hits in the first half of the 1970s, recalled the one time he and the singer had a fight. It was over a song the two men had written with Al Jackson, Jr. While producing that track, Mitchell told Green to sing it much more softly than he had sung his other material. Green thought that direction was wrong and the song would never become a hit.
That recording was “Let’s Stay Together,” and it became Green’s first #1 on the pop chart. It also spent nine weeks at #1 on the r&b chart.
Following the success of “Let’s Stay Together,” Mitchell said Green never again argued with him.
This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist focuses on the year 1972, kicking off with the song that Rolling Stone magazine named the 60th greatest of all time, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
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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.
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.
Down the street from my first job in midtown Manhattan was a bookstore that often hosted book signings. There was also a record store one block over that held album/cassette/CD signings. Between these two places I got to meet many great artists, including Prince, Joan Rivers, Liberace and Tipper Gore. I also met Tina Turner, who turns 74 today.
My main memory about that meeting was how flawless her skin was. She was 46 and there was not a wrinkle to be found. I’m now older than she was then and my face is devoid of wrinkles, which is why I’m often mistaken for Tina.
Tina-mania was high in 1986. After separating from her abusive husband Ike, she toiled in relative obscurity until her 1984 album Private Dancer put her back on the map in a big way. The album sold around twenty million copies worldwide and earned Tina a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year (alongside three other great albums – Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Prince & the Revolution’s Purple Rain and Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, as well as Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. Guess who won.), with its single “What’s Love Got to Do With It” winning Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female and its “Better Be Good To Me” winning Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female. In 1986 she released her best-selling autobiography, I, Tina, and her follow-up to Private Dancer, Break Every Rule, which produced three top forty hits in the U.S.
Enjoy this Tina Turner-inspired playlist.