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The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Today is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. You’re officially allowed to start listening to holiday music now. To get you started, I compiled a playlist of what I consider to be 100 of the best Christmas songs. Okay, 98 songs, a stand-up routine and a skit. It’s a mix of standards, versions of standards with which you may not be familiar, and obscure but delightful tunes.

Enjoy!

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A Hint Of Mint – Volume 60 – Songs From Movies

Popcorn is fine, but be sure to have some Junior Mints around for this edition of A Hint of Mint, featuring minty movie music. Movies represented include The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tommy, The Bodyguard, Can’t Stop the Music, The Wizard of Oz, Footloose and Fame. Artists include Queen, Dolly Parton and Olivia Newton-John.


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Throwback Thursday – 1983

Winston + MJ
MTV debuted on August 1, 1981. Back then it was a music video network. It positioned itself as a rock station. Most of the videos shown were of songs made by Caucasian performers, though rock-leaning black acts such as Joan Armatrading and the Bus Boys got some play.

Then came “Billie Jean.” The second single from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, “Billie Jean” was accompanied by a stylish video featuring a mesmerizing performance from Jackson. However, it wasn’t a rock song. It didn’t fit the format of rock radio stations, and it didn’t fit the format of MTV either.

But there is a big difference between radio and music television. There were plenty of radio stations and many different formats. You may not hear “Billie Jean” on the rock stations, but you could hear it on r&b stations and pop stations and dance-leaning stations. However, there was only one music television – MTV.

In his autobiography, Howling at the Moon, Walter Yetnikoff, head of CBS Records, for whom Jackson recorded (and where I worked in my first music business job), wrote “I screamed bloody murder when MTV refused to air [Jackson’s] videos. They argued that their format, white rock, excluded Michael’s music. I argued they were racist assholes – and I’d trumpet it to the world if they didn’t relent. I’ve never been more forceful or obnoxious. I’ve also never been as effective, threatening to pull all our videos. With added pressure from [Thriller producer] Quincy Jones, they caved in, and in doing so the MTV color line came crashing down.”

Jackson’s video for “Billie Jean” aired on MTV, followed just weeks later by his video for “Beat It,” a song whose guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen helped make it a hit on rock radio. These two videos made Jackson, already a superstar, a worldwide phenomenon with a humongous fan base that transcended race, age and location in a way never seen before. These two videos made MTV, a year and a half old and fairly popular in white suburban areas, a cultural institution. These two videos made the music video, then not something done for many singles, particularly those performed by artists of color, an art form and a necessary marketing tool.

Some people tuned in to MTV to see the Michael Jackson videos, and while watching the channel, discovered other acts. Some people tuned in to MTV to watch “white rock” videos, and while watching the channel, discovered Michael Jackson.

MTV went to showcase more “non-rock” videos. In 1988, they launched their hugely popular program Yo! MTV Raps, something that would have been completely unexpected just five years earlier, pre-“Billie Jean.”

While MTV deserves credit for making “Billie Jean” and Thriller successful, the person most responsible is Jackson himself. He wrote the song. He sang the song. He danced the song. Quincy Jones did not want “Billie Jean” to appear on Thriller. He didn’t like the title. He didn’t like the bassline. He felt the song’s introduction was too long. Jackson argued “But that’s the jelly!…That’s what makes me want to dance.” Jones wasn’t ready for this jelly, but Jackson stood his ground.

In May of 1983, NBC aired a tribute to Motown Records. Motown: Yesterday, Today, Forever featuring many legends who recorded for the storied label performing their classics. We saw Diana Ross, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Lionel Richie and the Commodores, Mary Wells, Junior Walker and then some. It was a terrific show, but the talk of the town following its airing was the performance of a song not from the Motown catalogue – Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” The iconic performance, during which Jackson brought the famous moonwalk to the world at large, pushed him that much more ahead of any other performer working in music back then.

Following “Beat It,” CBS Records released four more singles from Thriller. All seven of the singles released (the album had only nine songs!) went top ten, breaking the record of most top ten hits from a single-artist album that was set a few years earlier by…Michael Jackson, whose Off the Wall gave us four. Before Thriller, four singles for one album was considered a lot. Thriller raised the bar for blockbuster albums, and subsequent releases such as Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Prince’s Purple Rain, Def Leppard’s Hysteria and Janet Jackson’s Control each produced more than four hits.

“Billie Jean” changed everything.

On this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, Tunes du Jour spotlights 1983, kicking off with Michael Jackson’s classic “Billie Jean.”


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My Birthday Advice: Don’t!

doggies + Elvis
Today is my birthday. Over my 25+ years on earth, I’ve learned many life lessons. Most of them came from songs. My birthday gift to you is a playlist of 100 songs offering advice as to what not to do.


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Throwback Thursday – 1981

me before promThe blogger in 1981, before heading to the senior prom

For this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, we revisit 1981. The 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year went to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy. The Best New Artist was Shena Easton. Record of the Year and Song of the Year went to “Bette Davis Eyes,” performed by Kim Carnes. Both Carnes and Easton were nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, along with Olivia Newton-John for “Physical” and Juice Newton for “Angel of the Morning,” but those ladies lost to Lena Horne for “WTF?”. Rick Springfield won Best Rock Performance, Male (naturally) for “Jessie’s Girl.” “Just the Two of Us,” the Grover Washington, Jr./Bill Withers hit, took home the trophy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

Here are some of 1981’s biggest hits:

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A Mothers Day Playlist

It’s Mothers Day weekend. Today’s playlist consists of songs about mothers. Not mothers like Shaft, a bad mother shut-your-mouth. Real mothers.

Happy Mothers Day!


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Loretta Lynn And Me: Like Identical Twins

In one of her best-known songs, Loretta Lynn sings of being a coal miner’s daughter, growing up poor in a cabin in rural Kentucky with her dad, her mom whose fingers were bloody from doing the laundry, and her seven siblings. For Christmas the kids got a new pair of shoes with money made from selling a hog.

The song hits home for me, as it is pretty much the story of my life, with a few minor differences. I’m not a coal miner’s daughter; I’m the son of a garment manufacturer. I didn’t grow up poor in rural Kentucky; I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in middle-class suburbs of New York City. My mom’s fingers never bled from doing laundry, as best as I recall, and I have one brother and one sister. We celebrated Hanukkah, when I got gifts such as Diana Ross’ Greatest Hits and Aretha Franklin’s Ten Years of Gold with money my dad made from selling shmatas. Other than that, the similarities between my life and that of Loretta Lynn are uncanny.

Today Loretta Lynn turns 83 years old, just like me (except for the part about today being my birthday and me being 83). Here are twenty gems from her catalog.

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Who Is Barry Mann?

Ringo + Righteous
During yesterday’s Grammy Awards, the songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil received the Trustees Award, whatever that is. The honor was introduced by Tom Jones and Jessie J, who performed the most godawful rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” that has ever been foisted upon an unsuspecting world. Lost that loving feeling? More like lost their hearing, based on the way Jones and J yelled and screamed at each other. Do they not understand the concept of microphones? No need to shout, people.

To unwrong this heinous assault on the ears of the show’s viewers, Tunes du Jour presents to you a collection of twenty tunes co-written by Mann, most with his wife of 54 years, Weil. Along with the husband-wife songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil helped shape the sound of American pop music beginning in the early 1960s. Coincidentally, both Mann and King celebrate their birthdays today. For more on King, click here.

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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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This Is Not A Love Song!

While riding the subway one day in 1987 I saw a woman sitting on the seat next to the pole onto which I was holding. In her lap was a notepad on which was written across the top “Songs for Wedding Reception.” The first song listed was Jody Watley’s “Looking for a New Love.” I saw a divorce lawyer in her future.

“Looking for a New Love” is a fine song, and it was a big hit that year, but at your wedding reception? It’s not like the lyrics could be misunderstood. “I’m looking for a new love, baby / A new love / Yeah yeah yeah.”

I could understand if she had written down the title of R.E.M.’s hit from that year, “The One I Love.” A casual listener may hear “This one goes out to the one I love,” missing the description of this person as “a simple prop to occupy my time.” I love this song and the Jody Watley song, but neither will get played at my wedding reception.

In 1997 I was dating Dr. Leon, the Russian dentist. The Cardigans’ “Lovefool” came on the radio and he told me he loves the song. “So do I,” I replied.

“You? But you’re so unromantic? How could you like such a romantic song?”

First of all, I’m very romantic, so up yours Dr. Leon. I wouldn’t play “Looking for a New Love” at my wedding reception. Secondly, “Lovefool” is a romantic song? “Fool me, fool me / Go on and fool me / Love me, love me / Pretend that you love me.” To quote The Magnetic Fields, how fucking romantic.

I don’t know what the subway woman selected as her wedding song. Maybe it was “Every Breath You Take,” a popular choice for that honor. It’s something that amuses the song’s writer, Sting. He wrote it after splitting with his wife, and calls it “a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.” Mazel tov!

Some other songs that may not be appropriate for your wedding:
“Best of My Love” by Eagles. “You see it your way, and I see it mine, and we both see it slipping away.”

“Cherish” by The Association. “Perish is the word that more than applies / To the hope in my heart each time I realize / That I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams”

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston or Dolly Parton. “If I should stay, I’ll only be in your way / So I’ll go”

doggies + Police
Today Sting turns 63 years old. We kick off our playlist with “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, from their album Synchronicity. It was the band’s fifth and final album. After that record’s success the group, like many of those who had “Every Breath You Take” as their wedding song, split up. Sting was never heard from again.

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