Tag Archives: Carpenters

My First 45 By The Carpenters

When I was young I’d listen to the radio waitin’ for my favorite songs
When they played, I’d sing along; it made me smile

One of my favorite songs when I was young(er) was “Please Mr. Postman,” to which I was introduced via the version performed by The Carpenters, as the original hit version by The Marvelettes pre-dated my existence.

The Carpenters’ single entered the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974, the year my Grandpa Abe gave me a radio, entering me on a path of music fandom from which I have yet to stray. It ultimately went to #1, the same position at which The Marvelettes’ version peaked fourteen years earlier (and in doing so, became Motown Records first #1 pop hit). Incidentally, The Carpenters final Hot 100 entry was also a cover of a Marvelettes hit, “Beechwood 4-5789.” It peaked at #82, sixty-five notches below the peak position of the original.

I bought the Carpenters 45, which came with a picture sleeve cleverly replicating an envelope.

Carpenters002Zip codes? We don’t need no stinkin’ zip codes!

I wrote to the address on the sleeve. A few weeks later I received this in the mail:

Carpenters001
By the way, the lyrics that open this blog post are taken from “Yesterday Once More,” a #2 hit for The Carpenters. The song was written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis.

Karen Carpenter, the sibling duo’s singer and drummer, was born on March 2, 1950. She died in 1983 at age 32 from “emetine cardiotoxicity due to or as a consequence of anorexia nervosa.”

Between 1970 and 1981 The Carpenters scored twenty top 40 hits on the Hot 100. Here they are:


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Throwback Thursday – The Hits Of 1973

Singer/Songwriter/Record producer Ed Townsend had, in his own words, “a monstrous addiction to alcohol.” While in rehab he wrote a song which he described as a message to himself “about the business of getting on with life.”

On March 13, 1973, Townsend recorded a demo of Marvin Gaye singing this composition.

Nine days later, the men were again in the studio. Visiting the two men there was Barbara Hunter, a friend of Townsend. She came with her 16-year-old daughter, Janis.

Gaye was immediately smitten with Janis. As he often did, Gaye made up new lyrics in the studio. Inspired by the presence of this beautiful teenage girl, Townsend’s song about understanding and brotherhood became a paean to enjoying sex for its own sake, particularly when it is with someone you love.

Marvin and Janis got married in 1977, four years after the song Gaye recorded the day they met, “Let’s Get It On,” hit #1.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist consists of twenty big hits from 1973, kicking off with the classic “Let’s Get It On.”


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A Ben Folds Mix Tape

When all words fail, she speaks / Her mix tape’s a masterpiece
– Ben Folds, “Kate”

tapes
The precursor to this blog was mix tapes. In high school I made mix tapes every day to get us through the 45 minute bus ride to school. For friends I made mix tapes of songs I thought they should know. After I graduated college and started a job, I made mix tapes to get through the work day. As I didn’t have my own office for several years, I aimed to make compilations that would have broad appeal, so my coworkers could enjoy them as well. It’s hard to please everyone. Try as I might, I could not get Karla to enjoy the tunes I included. She thought Whitesnake were the greatest group in creation, so how could I expect her to like music that was good?

In his book Love is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield writes that there is always a reason to make a mix tape. He provides the following categories:
The Party Tape
I Want You
We’re Doing It? Awesome!
You Like Music, I Like Music, I Can Tell We’re Going to be Friends
You Broke My Heart and Made Me Cray and Here Are Twenty or Thirty Songs About It
The Road Trip
No Hard Feelings, Babe
I Hate This Fucking Job
The Radio Tape
The Walking Tape
And the drug tape, the commute tape, the dishes tape, the shower tape, the collection of good songs from bad albums you never want to play again, the greatest hots of your significant other’s record pile, the night before you break up.

I love mix tapes. I love to categorize music. Not by genre. I miss the old days of top 40 radio when Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters were played on the same station. I love to find connections between songs that nobody else would have thought to put together.

There’s an art to making a good mix tape. I have my rules – open with an uptempo song, don’t clump all the best known songs together, mix in lesser-known tracks with the more famous ones.

This blog is my mix tape outlet for the 2000s. Here I usually focus the playlists on single artists (meaning playlists of one artist, not unmarried artists, though maybe I’ll make a mix tape of the latter). The art of a single-artist mix tape differs from that of a various artists collection. For that matter, the methodology varies from artist to artist.

When I created a Buddy Holly playlist last week, it wasn’t difficult to decide what songs to include. The man had a short career, so it was pretty obvious which twenty songs would comprise the compilation. The Michael Jackson playlist I created just over a week before than was more challenging. The man had so many hits and other great tracks that were not hits. In that case, I figured whoever would be listening knows Thriller inside and out, so I focused on his other releases. I chose songs that were hits but since forgotten, songs that were not hits but have held up great over time, and mixed them with the best-known songs from his teenage and pre-teen years. I approach each artist differently.

Part of the challenge of creating a good mix is I don’t know exactly who my audience is for the blog. For example, being today is Ben Folds’ birthday, I made a Ben Folds mix. Who is going to listen to it? Is it the Ben Folds fan? Is it the person who knows Folds from his only crossover hit, “Brick?” Is it the person who has never heard of Folds, but gives the playlist I listen because they trust my recommendation?

I don’t know, so I created a playlist in which my favorite Folds album tracks hang out with many of the fun cover versions he has released digitally between albums. I usually don’t include so many covers in a playlist of a singer/songwriter. In Folds’ case, he approaches covers in different ways. Some are faithful to the original, as when he performs Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” of Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” Some are radically different than the original versions, a la his covers of the Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” or Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” Though covers, the ones in the latter category reveal his artistry as much as his originals do.

In honor of Ben Folds’ 49th birthday, here is a Ben Folds mix tape.


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Throwback Thursday – 1970

me - 1970The blogger in 1970

Today Tunes du Jour introduces Throwback Thursday playlists, in which we go back to hear some of the biggest hits from a particular year. We start with 1970, when you could hear Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters played back-to-back on your favorite AM Top 40 station..


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“Lean On Me” – Bill Withers

In 1967 Bill Withers moved to Los Angeles to try to make it as a songwriter. While pursuing this dream he worked at Lockheed Aircraft, making around $3.50/hour. He spent $2500 of his own money to record some demo tracks. Not one record company or publisher expressed interest.

While working at a factory making toilet seats for 747s, he formed friendships with his co-workers and appreciated how they would help each other out. The mutual support this group of workers offered inspired him to compose a song. He titled it “Lean on Me.”

His upbringing played a large part in the song’s sentiment. “Being from a rural, West Virginia setting, that kind of circumstance would be more accessible to me than it would be to a guy living in New York where people step over you if you’re passed out on the sidewalk, or Los Angeles, where you could die on the side of the freeway and it would probably be 8 days before anyone noticed you were dead. Coming from a place where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid, that would cue me to have those considerations.”

He recorded the track for his album Still Bill. The single went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1972. He left his factory job, but retained a good perspective, telling the L.A. Times: “Even when I was working on bathroom seats, this was at least constructive. I challenge anybody: I won’t sing for a month and you don’t go to the bathroom for a month and let’s see who comes off with less misery.”

“Lean On Me” won Withers a Grammy award for Best R&B Song … in 1987. On March 21 of that year Club Nouveau took their rendition of the song to #1, only the fifth time in the rock era that two different versions of the same song hit #1. (The first four? “Go Away Little Girl” – Steve Lawrence/Donny Osmond, “The Loco-Motion” – Little Eva/Grand Funk, “Please Mr. Postman” – The Marvelettes/The Carpenters, and “Venus” – The Shocking Blue/Bananarama.)

Bill Withers turns 77 years old today. Being he is an American institution, federal offices and banks are closed today. Many parts of the country are celebrating his birthday with fireworks displays, as they should. Here are twenty Withers tracks worth hearing, starting with the classic “Lean on Me.”


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I Say A Little Prayer On Burt Bacharach’s Birthday

Songwriters/Producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David had a string of hits with Dionne Warwick in the 1960s. They usually got the master they wanted after just one take; however, on “I Say a Little Prayer,” they did ten takes with Warwick, not liking any of the end results. They felt the tempo was too rushed. They gave up on the recording and into the vault it went, until October 1967, when the head of Warwick’s record label slated it to be the b-side of the new single “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls.” While “Dolls” eventually became a hit, it was “I Say a Little Prayer” that raced up the chart first, becoming Warwick’s first gold record.

Against the advice of Jerry Wexler, the head of her record label, Aretha Franklin recorded a cover of “I Say a Little Prayer” just weeks after Warwick’s record peaked. Wexler thought it was too soon to remake the song, not to mention that he felt the song was far better suited to Warwick’s voice. Franklin came up with a new arrangement for the tune and used the same backup singers that sang on Warwick’s version. Though he loved what she did with the song, Wexler still didn’t think it was a hit, and scheduled it as the b-side to Aretha’s July 1968 single “The House That Jack Built.” As with Dionne’s record, both sides of Aretha’s single hit the top ten and the record went gold.

Though he didn’t produce Franklin’s recording, Bacharach has called it “the definitive version.”

Today Burt Bacharach turns 87 years old. Here are twenty classic songs from his songwriting catalogue.


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It’s Ray Parker, Jr.’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

“Which song is better – ‘Ghostbusters’ or ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart?’”

That question was posed by a co-worker. Are you fudgetown kidding me? It’s like asking “Which movie is better – The Godfather or Paul Blart-Mall Cop 2?”

Okay. That comparison is unfair. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is far more enjoyable than Paul Blart-Mall Cop 2. I haven’t seen Paul Blart-Mall Cop 2, but I’m confident that “Total Eclipse…” is funnier. “I don’t know what to do, I’m always in the dark / We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.” Ha! And how ‘bout dem sleigh bells?!? How many other summer hits employed sleigh bells?

So yes, I love “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” because it’s so delightfully awful. “Ghostbusters,” on the other hand, is genius. If you were called to write the theme song for a Bill Murray/Ernie Hudson feature film entitled Ghostbusters, would you turn in “Ghostbusters” or “Total Eclipse of the Heart?” Exactly!

RPJ + Winston
“Ghostbusters” is so danged catchy. A lot of people thought so. Huey Lewis thought so. Lewis accused Parker, Jr. of ripping off the Huey Lewis and the News hit “I Want a New Drug” for the melody of “Ghostbusters.” I hear a similarity, but to me it’s like “Hey, Ray – there’s a shitty song called ‘I Want a New Drug.’ Can you make it better, please?” And he did.

“I Want a New Drug” isn’t even fun bad. “I want a new drug – one that won’t make me sick / One that won’t make me crash my car, or make me feel three feet thick.” Really? Did someone misplace their rhyming dictionary?

“Ghostbusters” has no clumsy lyrics. It’s all very efficient. “Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! I think you better call. Ghostbusters! Ha ha. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! I can’t hear you. Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Louder! Ghostbusters! Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Who can you call? Ghostbusters! Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Ha ha ha. Uh, it likes the girls, too. Ghostbusters!” Then fade, way too soon if you ask me.

“Ghostbusters” was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song, but it lost to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” a far shittier song than “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “I Want a New Drug.” I’m not going to quote any lyrics from “I Just Called…,” as I’m pissed off that someone wrote and recorded that atrocity and then Motown stuck Stevie Wonder’s name on it. There’s no way the man who wrote “Maybe Your Baby” also wrote “I Just Called….” By the way, who plays guitar on Stevie Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby?” Ray Parker, Jr.

Today is Ray Parker, Jr.’s 61st birthday. His hits, solo and with his band Raydio, include “A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do),” “Jack and Jill,” “You Can’t Change That” and “The Other Woman.” He also wrote or co-wrote hits for Rufus featuring Chaka Khan and New Edition and has appeared on records by Aretha Franklin, The Carpenters, Barry White, Bill Withers, Deniece Williams, yes I said The Carpenters, The Temptations, Spinners, Boz Scaggs, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Cheryl Lynn, LaToya Jackson and Jack Wagner. Jack Wagner. Hey, Jack Wagner – who you gonna call? Ray Parker, Jr.

Our weekly dance party kicks off with Parker, Jr.’s most beloved song, “Ghostbusters.” Try dancing to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” You can’t! Another point for “Ghostbusters.” (Let’s not discuss Nicki French’s hi-NRG remake of “Eclipse” at this time.)


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The Song Retains The Name

Winston + Bobby Brown
Today is Bobby Brown’s 46th birthday. A former member of New Edition, Brown had his first solo hit in 1988 with “Don’t Be Cruel,” which reached #8 on the Hot 100. Though it shares its title with an Elvis Presley #1 hit from 1956, Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is not a remake.

That brings us to today’s playlist, which I call The Song Retains the Name. It consists of different songs with the same title. I initially planned to include twenty such songs, but more kept springing to mind. Before I knew it, I passed 100 entries. There are plenty more, so I decided to open this up to my reader(s). If you have songs that share titles you’d like to add, feel free to do so.

(NOTES: I included The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” because when it was released in 1980 its title was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Thought he didn’t have to, Michael Jackson, the song’s writer, later changed its name to “This Place Hotel” to avoid confusion with the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel.” Whitney Houston didn’t feel the need to make the same Hotel accommodation.

Also, though it is listed on Spotify as “The Best of My Love,” the Eagles track does not have a “The” on the 45 or the band’s On the Border album.)

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Make The Yuletide Gay

Today is December 24. It’s the date when people around the world celebrate Ricky Martin’s birthday. What’s the first thing you think of when someone says Ricky Martin? Gay? I thought so. Hold that thought.

Christmas Eve is tonight. Many people around the world celebrate that as well, possibly almost as many people as the number that celebrate Ricky Martin’s birthday. He’s turning 43, by the way.

Anyhoosle, I decided to combine the two celebrations. Tunes du Jour hereby presents the gayest Christmas playlist ever. Fifty songs that will bring you cheer and fabulousity and get you arrested if you listen to them in Russia.

Have a festive day!

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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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