Duets. Twenty of ’em.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Songs by artists such as Dusty Springfield, who came out as bisexual in 1970; Elton John, who hadn’t yet come out as bi or gay during this period but is now openly gay; and David Bowie, whose persona was bi though the performer later said he himself was straight. Included herewith are twenty songs, some performed by artists who fall somewhere under the LGBTQ umbrella, others with queer lyrical content.
In October of 1975, the band Queen played for their manager, John Reid, a song they recently finished recording that they wanted to release as their next single. Reid told them the track would not get any airplay. He played it for another artist he managed, Elton John, who reportedly said “Are you mad? You’ll never get that on the radio!”
Queen stayed firm, not relenting when their record company begged them to at least edit the song down from its nearly six-minute duration.
To promote the song, the band was invited to play on England’s hugely successful Top of the Pops television program. They were unable to appear due to tour commitments, so they did something that wasn’t very common in 1975 – they filmed a videoclip. Top of the Pops aired the clip. As the song rose up the charts, the video was shown repeatedly. Soon other artists in the UK made videos for their records, which is why when MTV launched in the United States in 1981, many of the clips they aired were of UK acts.
The single, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” went to #1 in England in December of that year, where it stayed for nine weeks. It got knocked from the top spot by a song whose title consisted of a phrase used in “Bohemian Rhapsody” – ABBA’s “Mamma Mia.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” hit #1 again there in December of 1991, a few weeks after the death of the band’s lead singer and the song’s composer, Freddie Mercury.
In the United States, the song didn’t go to #1, but it did hit the top ten in 1976 and 1992.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, Tunes du Jour revisits 1976 (part I can be found here), kicking off with the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
You gotta get out while you’re young
New Jersey does not have an official state song. There have been attempts to adopt one since at least 1939, when the state’s Board of Education held a contest to find a suitable number. They named Samuel F. Monroe’s “The New Jersey Loyalty Song” as the contest’s winner, but it was not good enough to be the official state song.
In 1972, the state legislature proposed that Joseph “Red” Mascara’s “I’m from New Jersey” be the state’s song, but Governor William Cahill vetoed the measure, stating succinctly about the song “It stinks.”
In March of 1980, radio d.j. Carol Miller started a petition to have “Born to Run,” written and recorded by New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, be named the state song. Three state assemblypersons drafted a resolution declaring “Born to Run” “as the unofficial *rock* theme of our State’s youth.” I’m confused to as to how an official resolution can name an “unofficial” theme, just as the state’s senate was confused as to how a song that includes the lyrics that open this post expresses pride in where one’s from. The bid died.
The song also includes these lyrics that tickle my friend Audrey so: Someday, girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go.
Oh, that place!
By the way, I got out of New Jersey when I was 24.
This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights some of the best tunes from 1975, kicking off with what is unofficially New Jersey’s unofficial state song, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
Our story begins in 1970 with a phone call placed by singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly to his friend, actor Lee Majors. Pre-The Six Million Dollar Man Majors was dating pre-Charlie’s Angels actress Farrah Fawcett. Fawcett answered the phone and while chatting with Weatherly, mentioned she was leaving that night to visit her parents in Texas. She told him she was taking the midnight plane to Houston.
That phrase stuck with Weatherly, who immediately upon hanging up the phone, turned it into a song. He recorded “Midnight Plane to Houston” for his 1972 album, Weatherly. Among the album’s other tracks was another song he wrote, entitled “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye).”
It was the latter song that first made its way to Gladys Knight & the Pips. Their recording of it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was their biggest-selling single for Motown. It also turned out to be their last single released on Motown while still signed to the label.
The group had been with Motown since 1966. While “Neither One of Us” was on the charts, negotiations for a better deal with the label fell through, and the group was quickly scooped up by Buddah Records. As songwriter Jim Weatherly just provided them with a huge hit, they looked for more Weatherly compositions to record for their debut album for Buddah. You may see where this is going, but let’s backtrack for a moment.
“Midnight Plane to Houston” found its way to Cissy Houston, r&b/gospel singer and mother to Whitney Houston. Cissy liked the song, but asked Weatherly if she can make some changes. Specifically, her family was from Georgia, so she asked if she could switch Houston to Georgia. Also, her family didn’t fly; they rode trains. Weatherly had no objection to the requested changes, so in 1972, Cissy Houston recorded “Midnite Train to Georgia.”
It was this revised version that made its way to Gladys Knight & the Pips, who also hail from Georgia. The lyrics resonated with Knight. Like the partner about whom the song’s protagonist sings, Knight’s husband at that time was a musician. Perhaps he kept dreaming that someday he’d be a star, a superstar, but he didn’t get far. Unlike the song’s protagonist, Knight didn’t choose to live in his world than live without him in hers. The couple divorced in 1973, the same year that Gladys Knight & the Pips scored their first #1 pop single with “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which knocked the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” from the top slot. “Midnight Train” won the group the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group.
Twelve years after the group’s first top ten pop hit, 1961’s “Every Beat of My Heart,” Gladys Knight & the Pips went on hit-making roll, following up “Midnight” with three consecutive top ten hits: “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” “On and On,” and another Weatherly composition, “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”
Today Gladys Knight turns 72 years old. Tunes du Jour celebrates the occasion with twenty of her group’s finest.
In 1974, my Grandpa Abe gave me a radio, thus changing my life. That radio became my best friend and music my main interest. I started buying all the 45 rpm records that made the top ten. Soon I was reading the trade magazines, as well as Rolling Stone, Circus, Creem, Song Hits, Hit Parader, Musician, and then some. Who knows what career path I would have chosen had I not latched onto popular music in my pre-teen years?
Tunes du Jour’s Throwback Thursday playlist this week focuses on the music of 1974. It includes the music I heard on the radio back then (eighteen top 40 hits) plus two I discovered later on.
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In a moment I’ll introduce you to Anohni, who was nominated for an Oscar this year in the category of Best Original Song, but first I want to talk a little about Kesha, Grimes and Sam Smith.
You may have heard about Kesha’s much-publicized battle to get out of her recording agreement. She claims that Dr. Luke, the producer to whose company, Kemosabe Records, she is signed, drugged and sexually assaulted her on several occasions. As a courtroom proceeding about those allegations had not yet been tried, a New York Supreme Court justice denied Kesha’s motion for a preliminary inunction extraditing her from recording for Kemosabe.
This led to the proliferation of the hashtag #FreeKesha. A group of fans protested outside Sony Music’s headquarters, demanding that the music corporation free Kesha. Kesha isn’t signed to Sony Music, but no matter. Sony should cease distribution of Kemosabe Records, which would leave Kesha still signed to Kemosabe, but hey – it was a nice day for a good protest, and what else is there in the world to complain about? Ongoing wars? Poisoned public water supplies? Human rights violations? More important to get a pop star out of her recording agreement. #Priorities
Many public figures offered support to Kesha, among them Lady Gaga, Lily Allen, Adele, Janelle Monáe, Fiona Apple, Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Tegan and Sara, HAIM, Alessia Cara, Lorde, Wale, Best Coast, George Takei, Anne Hathaway, Reese Witherspoon, Lena Dunham, Mariska Hargitay, Troye Sivan, Halsey, Iggy Azalea, Sara Bareilles, JoJo, Adam Lambert, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Margaret Cho, Zedd, and Jack Antonoff. Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha to help with her financial needs.
Also supporting Kesha is Claire Elise Boucher, the Canadian singer-songwriter who records under the name Grimes. In response to a question from a Time Out reporter about Kesha’s legal situation, Grimes, whose “Kill v. Maim” is #3 this week in Glenn’s Ten, said the following about recording agreements: “You shouldn’t be allowed to sign a human being, regardless of what the allegations are or what anyone said or did. It’s basically like slavery.” Yes, making millions of dollars doing your dream job is basically the same as being forcibly taken from your home and forced to do a job you don’t want to do for no pay, much like Spaghetti Carbonara is basically the same thing as a nuclear missile, which is to say, both exist. (Grimes’ two most recent albums were released by the 4AD label, with whom, I assume, she is signed to a recording agreement.)
If Kesha’s allegations against Dr. Luke are true, then I hope at the very least she is let out of her agreement with Kemosabe, as being forced to aid your rapist make money is unconscionable, and that is where the slavery comparison applies.
British singer-songwriter Sam Smith may or may not know what slavery is, but he exhibited a lack of grasp on history last weekend at the Academy Awards. As he couldn’t pronounce Anohni or The Weeknd, Common announced as the winner of the Best Original Song award the easiest name to remember and pronounce, Sam Smith.
In his acceptance speech, Smith claimed to be the first openly gay person to win an Oscar, which is true, if you don’t count Dustin Lance Black, Elton John, Melissa Etheridge, John Schlesinger, Stephen Sondheim, Bill Condon, Alan Ball, Scott Rudin, Pedro Almodovar and the other openly gay people who have won. Maybe Smith meant to say he’s the first openly gay person to win an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2016. He says he got his information from actor Sir Ian McKellen via an interview Smith read, which is true, if you leave out the part where McKellen refers to no openly gay winners in the Acting categories.
It was pointed out to Smith that he is not the first openly gay person to win an Oscar, to which he responded “I think I’m the second openly gay person to win it,” which is true, if you don’t count Dustin Lance Black, Elton John, Melissa Etheridge, John Schlesinger, Stephen Sondheim, Bill Condon, Alan Ball, Scott Rudin and the other openly gay people who have won less one. In the real world, Smith is not even the first openly gay person in the category of Best Original Song. When told that openly gay Howard Ashman won that category twice, Smith replied “I should know him. We should date.” Ashman died of AIDS-related complications in 1991, the year for which his title song from Beauty and the Beast won, but sure, Sam, date him. You’ll be the first openly necrophiliac to win an Oscar. #Trailblazer. I do agree with one thing Smith said. He should know of Ashman.
Which brings us to Anohni. Along with her collaborator, J. Ralph, Anohni was nominated for Best Original Song for “Manta Ray” from the film Racing Extinction. Unlike Sam Smith, The Weeknd and Lady Gaga, Anohni, a transsexual woman, was not invited to perform her nominated song at the Oscar ceremony. In a year in which The Academy was taken to task for a lack of diversity among the nominees, the producers felt it was more important for the president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to give a speech on the show about the importance of diversity in Hollywood than it was to allow only the second transgender person to be nominated for an Oscar to perform (not a Sam Smith second person, but truly the second). Besides, The Danish Girl received nominations, including one for Best Actor for Eddie Redmayne as the titular character Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender correction surgery, and who better to represent trans women at the Oscars than a heterosexual cisgender man? Also, the award show needed time for clueless Clueless actress Stacey Dash insult the .04% of viewers who know who she is. #Priorities
Here’s your chance to get to know Anohni, who previously recorded under the name Antony. Her distinctive voice will grab you and her songs will move you. Check out twenty of her best, including guest appearances on other artists’ tracks:
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The 88th Academy Awards will be presented this afternoon. Will Meryl Streep win Oscar #4? Oddsmakers say no. My predictions? The four acting awards will go to Caucasians, Best Director will go to a man, and all music performers will be cisgender. #diversity
This week’s A Hint of Mint playlist is inspired by the movies. Artists include R.E.M., Elton John and Frank Ocean.