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Throwback Thursday – 1979

Blondie + Ringo
Blondie’s hit single “Heart of Glass” was written by band members Debbie Harry and Chris Stein and had the working title of “The Disco Song.” Drummer Clem Burke said his part was inspired by the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”

Said Harry “When we did ‘Heart of Glass’ it wasn’t too cool in our social set to play disco. But we did it because we wanted to be uncool,” with the band’s keyboardist Jimmy Destri adding “We used to do ‘Heart of Glass’ to upset people.”

The song was included on Blondie’s Parallel Lines LP “as a novelty item to put more diversity into the album,” per Stein. The novelty song became the group’s first charted single and first #1, in 1979. Its success prompted John Lennon to send Ringo Starr a postcard advising to write songs like “Heart of Glass.”

Today’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights twenty of the best tracks from 1979, kicking off with Blondie’s upsetting disco novelty.


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Throwback Thursday – 1989

During the February 22, 1989 telecast of the Grammy Awards, Pepsi premiered a thirty-second spot that featured a new song by Madonna, “Like a Prayer.” It was the first time a major artist’s new single was used in a television commercial prior to being released to radio or record stores.

The following week, a two-minute version of the commercial aired during The Cosby Show, at the time a highly-rated program starring America’s favorite dad, Bill Cosby. The ad, part of a $5 million endorsement deal Pepsi struck with Madonna that also included tour sponsorship, featured Madonna dancing in the street, in a school hallway, and in a church.

The song’s music video premiered the following day on MTV. In the video, Madonna witnesses the murder of a white girl by white supremacists. A black man gets arrested for the killing. Madonna seeks refuge in a church, where she has a dream that includes stigmata on her hands, kissing a black saint, and dancing in front of burning crosses.

The Vatican and other religions organizations condemned the video and threatened a protest against Pepsi products. Pepsi dropped its sponsorship of Madonna, never again aired the television spot, and let Madonna keep the $5 million they paid her.

“Like a Prayer” became Madonna’s seventh #1 pop hit in the United States. It also topped the charts in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium, and Switzerland.

“Like a Prayer” won the Viewers Choice award at the 1989 MTV Music Video Awards, a program that incidentally was sponsored by Pepsi. In her speech, Madonna said “I would really like to thank Pepsi for causing so much controversy.”

Tunes du Jour’s playlist this Throwback Thursday spotlights the year 1989, and kicks off with Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.”


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Throwback Thursday – 1978

Just how popular were the Bee Gees in 1978? So big that they accounted for two percent of the record industry’s profits that year.

On January 1, 1978, the trio, made up of brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb, were at #1 with “How Deep is Your Love,” which the three performed, wrote and co-produced. It stayed on top for three weeks. In February they returned to the #1 position with “Stayin’ Alive.” That stayed at #1 for four weeks. It was knocked from the top spot by “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water,” performed by Andy Gibb, younger brother of the Bee Gees. “Thicker Than Water” was co-written and co-produced by Bee Gee Barry Gibb. “Thicker Than Water” was knocked from the top spot after two weeks by “Night Fever,” performed, written and co-produced by the Bee Gees. That song remained at #1 for eight weeks, only to be knocked from the top by “If I Can’t Have You,” performed by Yvonne Elliman and written and co-produced by the Bee Gees. Starting in mid-June, “Shadow Dancing,” written by the Bee Gees and Andy Gibb, co-produced by Barry Gibb, and performed by Andy Gibb went to #1 and stayed there for seven weeks. In late August Frankie Valli had his first #1 single in three years with “Grease,” written and co-produced by Barry Gibb.

Not everything they touched hit #1 that year. “Emotion,” written by Barry and Robin Gibb, co-produced by Barry Gibb and performed by Samantha Sang, peaked at #3 in March 1978. It was kept from #1 by “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive.”

The album from which “Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep is Your Love” and “If I Can’t Have You” were taken is the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever, which spent 24 weeks at #1 and became the largest-selling album in history at that time. It remains the only soundtrack to have spawned four #1 singles. It could have been five if the Bee Gees’ version of their composition “More Than a Woman” had been released as a commercial single. Instead, the Tavares version of the song, which also appears on the soundtrack, was the single and became a top forty hit. Saturday Night Fever became the first soundtrack album to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The Bee Gees also won Grammy Awards for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (both “How Deep is Your Love” and “Stayin’ Alive”) and Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices (for “Stayin’ Alive”), and Barry Gibb, along with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson, won Producer of the Year.

In 1978 the Bee Gees were connected with another high-profile movie project: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in which they starred and performed on the soundtrack. Though Robin Gibb hit #15 with the film’s “Oh! Darling”, the album and film were considered flops.

The relative failure of Sgt. Pepper’s notwithstanding, the Bee Gees remained huge throughout 1978. Their blend of pop, soul, and dance music gave them mass appeal. Besides hitting #1 on the pop charts, “Stayin’ Alive” and “Night Fever” were top ten hits on the r&b and disco charts.

Tunes du Jour celebrates Throwback Thursday this week with the music of 1978. The Bee Gees may have dominated the mainstream, but as you’ll hear, rumblings of new and exciting permutations of rock & roll were rumbling under the surface.

We’ll kick off today’s playlist with the song that went to #1 in the UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.


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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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Eric Clapton: England Is For White People

“Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I’m looking at you. Where are you? I’m sorry but some fucking wog…Arab grabbed my wife’s bum, you know? Surely got to be said, yeah this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that’s just the truth, yeah. So where are you? Well wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. You fucking (indecipherable). I don’t want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell. Enoch’s our man. I think Enoch’s right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking (indecipherable) don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he’s a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he’s our man, he’s on our side, he’ll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he’s on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!”
– Eric Clapton, to his audience during an August 1976 concert in Birmingham, UK. (Per Wikipedia, “in British English, wog is an offensive racial slur usually applied to Middle Eastern and South Asian peoples.”)

Clapton’s rant, coupled with the rise of fascist and neo-Nazi rhetoric in England, led to the formation of Rock Against Racism, a UK campaign in which recording artists including The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, Aswad and Generation X performed concerts with an anti-racism theme.

In an interview some years later, Clapton claims his remarks weren’t aimed at any one particular minority. True. They were aimed at “wogs” and “coons” and Arabs and Jamaicans, so several minorities. You dug yourself out of that one! “It was kind of a feeling of loss of identity, being English and losing my Englishness,” said the blues guitarist whose first solo top ten hit was a cover of a reggae song written by Bob Marley.

In his 2007 autobiography, cleverly entitled Clapton: The Autobiography, in a paragraph that begins with the sentence “I had never really understood, or been directly affected by, racial conflict,” Clapton says of the 1976 outburst “Since then I have learned to keep my opinions to myself.” Okay, that’s one lesson. I think there may be more if one looks hard enough.

Today Eric Clapton turns 70 years old. To celebrate, here are twenty songs about the idiocy of racism.

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Top 30 New Wave Songs

Winston + new wave w2
My friend and fellow improviser Josh asked me to compile a playlist consisting of my thirty favorite new wave songs. This proved challenging, for what is new wave? As a genre there is no clear definition of the term. For some it’s any musical act from England that emerged between 1977 and 1985. For some it includes any band that wasn’t punk that played at CBGBs. For some new wave was defined by the way the synths or guitars were played. For others it was a look.

I decided to not get too caught up on a precise definition; otherwise, I’d make myself crazy. For example, initially I was hesitant to include songs by Cheap Trick, Cyndi Lauper, Kid Creole and the Coconuts and even Pet Shop Boys (the latter because the song I chose was a poppy number that hit in 1988), but then I decided a case could be made for each to be considered new wave.

I limited myself to one song per artist. The limitation imposed by using Spotify to create the playlist proved to not be so bad – only one song I would put in my top thirty is not on the service, that being Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss.” I see some people writing Spotify thank you notes already.

Herewith are my thirty favorite new wave songs. Did I leave out any of your all-time favorites? Tell me in the Comments.

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Glenn’s Ten – 9/30/14

Ariel Pink’s “Put Your Number in My Phone” moves into #1 in Glenn’s Ten this week, knocking from the top Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass.” There are three new entries – “Beggin for Thread” performed by Banks, “i” performed by Kendrick Lamar and “Dangerous” performed by Big Data featuring Joywave.

Glenn’s Ten for this week is:
1. “Put Your Number in My Phone” – Ariel Pink
2. “Gotta Get Away” – The Black Keys
3. “Secrets” – Mary Lambert
4. “All About that Bass” – Meghan Trainor
5. “Beggin for Thread” – Banks
6. “Alone in My Home” – Jack White
7. “i” – Kendrick Lamar
8. “Flawless” – Beyoncé featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
9. “Dangerous” – Big Data featuring Joywave
10. “Do You” – Spoon

Rounding out today’s playlist are ten tunes that were #1 on this date in Glenn’s Ten history, in reverse chronological order.

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Elvis Costello Helps Me With Geography

History was not my strongest subject at school. Nor was Geography. I’ve always been good with things that incorporate logic. Memorizing facts? Not so much.

Music was the exception. Because music was my primary passion, stories and trivia about my favorite artists and songs tended to get lodged in my brain, never to escape.

Sometimes I came across songs that taught me facts and concepts more effectively than any teacher. Thanks to Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s “NaCl,” I got an A in Chemistry. The song explains the ionization process, wherein atoms gain or lose electrons to become positively or negatively charged, by detailing a budding romance between Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl). I can tell you when Louis XVI assumed the monarchy in France, thanks to Allan Sherman’s “You Went the Wrong Way, Old King Louis.” Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” educated me on the sinking of that ship and, more importantly, gave me a way to recall the names of the five Great Lakes, thanks to a gratuitous verse that names all of them.

Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army” helped me with crossword puzzle clues such as “River in England.” The song’s reference to “the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne” gives me three options for that answer. The Oliver of the song’s title is Oliver Cromwell, an English military and parliamentary leader in the 17th century. I don’t remember learning about him in school but maybe I did.

Ringo + Elvis C 2014-08-25 13.48
Today is Elvis Costello’s 60th birthday. Kicking off our playlist is “Oliver’s Army,” a song that wasn’t destined to make Costello’s Armed Forces album until Steve Nieve, Elvis’ keyboard player, suggested adding a piano riff based on Abba’s “Dancing Queen” to the track. That brought the track to life, giving Costello his first UK top ten single, reaching #2 in 1979.

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Paul McCartney And Me: Lives In Parallel

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.

Ringo + Macca 2014-06-18
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.

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Get Lowe. Nick Lowe.

Winston + Nick Lowe 002
As a producer, Nick Lowe has worked with Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Pretenders, Graham Parker, John Hiatt, The Damned, Paul Carrack, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, among others.

As a songwriter, Lowe’s works have been covered by Wilco, Dave Edmunds, and most famously, Elvis Costello, whose version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” is a must for every music fan’s library.

As a musician, Lowe has played in Rockpile, Brinsley Schwarz (no relation to yours truly), and Little Village.

As a solo artist, Nick Lowe has had one top 40 hit in the US. Written with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost” in mind, “Cruel to be Kind” reached #12 in 1979 and was one of the 206 music videos that aired on MTV’s first day of broadcasting, August 1, 1981. The song was written by Lowe and a Brinsley Schwarz bandmate, Ian Gomm. Coincidentally, Gomm also had his only US Top 40 hit as an artist, “Hold On,” at the same time as Lowe.

Today, Tunes du Jour celebrates Nick Lowe’s 65th birthday.

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