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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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Happy International Women’s Day!

March 8 is International Women’s Day. Here is your soundtrack:


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100 Greatest Artists

Last week my close friend Laura forward to me a link to Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Artists” and asked for my impression.

My 100 Greatest Artists list includes many of the same acts as Rolling Stone’s list; however, there is a large handful of acts on my roll that are not on that publication’s slate.

I won’t disparage their choices (but seriously, Aerosmith at #59?). Instead, I will share with you music from twenty artists that made my roster but are not among Rolling Stone’s top 100.

Feel free to share your choice acts in the Comments section.


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It’s David Bowie’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

Our weekly dance playlist kicks off with a track that was inspired by a song from the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen. In the movie, Danny Kaye performs the Frank Loesser’s “Inchworm.” While schoolchildren sing “Two and two are four / Four and four are eight” etc., Kaye sings to the titular worm “You and your arithmetic/ You’ll probably go far,” and asking “Could it be you’d stop and see
how beautiful they are?” Singer-songwriter David Bowie told Performing Songwriter magazine “You wouldn’t believe the amount of my songs that have sort of spun off that one song. Not that you’d really recognize it. Something like ‘Ashes to Ashes’ wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t have been for ‘Inchworm.’ There’s a child’s nursery rhyme element in it, and there’s something so sad and mournful and poignant about it. It kept bringing me back to the feelings of those pure thoughts of sadness that you have as a child, and how they’re so identifiable even when you’re an adult. There’s a connection that can be made between being a somewhat lost five-year old and feeling a little abandoned and having the same feeling when you’re in your twenties. And it was that song that did that for me.”

Today is David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues with this playlist of club tunes.


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Throwback Thursday – The Hits of 1984

Madonna debuted “Like a Virgin” with a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards in September 1984, weeks before the record was released. Watching her on television rolling around the floor in a wedding dress with a Boy Toy belt buckle, the song’s writers, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, thought “We’re doomed now. This is an embarrassment. This is never going to succeed.”

“Like a Virgin” spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, her first single to top that chart.

Kelly and Steinberg didn’t meet Madonna until around five years later. At a party they saw her, and asked Steve Bray, who wrote Madonna’s hit “Into the Groove,” to introduce them.

Bray did so. “Madonna, I want you to meet Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. They wrote ‘Like a Virgin.’”

Steinberg said “Oh Madonna, I’ve wanted to meet you for so long.”

Madonna replied “Well, now you did,” and walked away.

“Like a Virgin” kicks off this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, spotlighting the hits of 1984.


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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

I knew I was in trouble when the doctor walked into the examination room, looked at me, and said “Mrs. Garcia?”

Unfortunately, I was forced to change health care plans this year. By doing so, I could not longer see the doctor I’ve been going to for the past eleven years. Of those affiliated with my new insurance provider, I selected the doctor who was closest to my home.

I went to his office today because of my eyes. My eyelids are itchy and flaky, and beneath my eyes is swollen and red. I asked him how I should treat them, and he answered “I don’t know. I’m not a dermatologist.” Per the rules of the plan, I had to see him before I could go to a specialist, which seems to me to be a silly waste of time. He took a photograph of my eyes, instructing me to close my eyes for an effective photo. I didn’t go to medical school, but I could have figured out on my own that the best way to photograph my eyelids is for me to have my eyes shut. He’ll send the photos into headquarters, who will then contact me with the name of a dermatologist I can see. Until then, all I can do is scratch my eyelids until they bleed.

On the plus side, the doctor said I’m not pregnant. That calls for a dance.

Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party kicks off with Neneh Cherry’s “Kisses on the Wind.”


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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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It’s Sting’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

“Turn on my VCR, same one I’ve had for years”

beta
I still have my beta player. It’s not a Betamax, which is a Sony brand, but rather a Sanyo. I haven’t used it since I moved to LA in 2003, because it isn’t working. I don’t want to get rid of it, though, as I have a lot of great stuff on beta tapes. Stuff that is irreplaceable.

beta tapesThere are plenty more where these came from!

Some of the recordings I have on beta tapes can be found on YouTube – The Making of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” for example. Others, such as Purple Rain and The Flamingo Kid, are available on a host of formats that have hit the market since beta. I’m sure I could find Madonna’s pre-fame feature A Certain Sacrifice on-line if I bothered to look for it.

I used to always keep a recordable beta tape in the machine. You never know if while channel surfing you’ll come across Chaka Khan being interviewed on a Spanish talk show on UHF. (UHF pre-dates cable TV. It pre-dates beta tapes. Look it up.) I have several dozen tapes filled with television performances from artists I was obsessed with during my beta machine’s lifetime. Not that it’s dead. I refuse to believe it is. Perhaps I’m still in the denial stage of Dr. Kübler-Ross seven stages of grieving, but I believe the beta machine can easily be fixed. It probably needs a new band. Getting the machine fixed is on my To Do list. I can’t wait to dig in to those old tapes. I look forward to watching the one I labelled “Highlights from The Late Show With Joan Rivers.” It contains her interview with the late great disco queen Sylvester in which he accidentally outed his boyfriend. It also contains several appearances by The Bangles, as I was obsessed with both the Bangles and Joan Rivers. Sometimes I miss the 80s, but then I remember Duran Duran.

Might any of my LA readers be able to recommend a beta machine repair person?

The lyric that opens this post is from The Police’s song “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” I have some of the band’s TV appearances on those beta tapes.

Today is the 64th birthday of that band’s usual lead singer, Sting. Our weekly dance party kicks off with the song with the longest title of any in the trio’s recorded repertoire.


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The Problem With Music Streaming Exclusives | It’s Florence Welch’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

Dr. Dre recently released a new album, Compton. If you want to stream it, the only place to do so is on Apple iTunes’ new streaming service, Apple Music.

Prince announced that his new album would be available for streaming exclusively on Tidal.

Both Apple Music and Tidal charge monthly subscription fees. Unlike paying a monthly subscription fee to HBO and Showtime, thereby giving you access to exclusive content on each network, the majority of material on Tidal is also on Apple Music. If you pay for Apple’s service, is it worth paying an additional amount to Tidal just to hear Prince and see a few behind the scenes videoclips?

The situation reminds me of what happened in the late 1990s. Record companies stopped releasing commercial singles, so if a consumer wished to own, say, “Tubthumping,” that consumer had to purchase a Chumbawamba CD for $18.98. “Tubthumping” is a great song, but is it $18.98 great? Yes, you get other songs on the album, but be honest – it’s all about “Tubthumping.”

It turns out an alternative appeared – illegal downloading. Consumers rebelled against being forced to pay $18.98 to get that one song they wanted, so they found a copy of it on the Internet for free. And while browsing the store known as the World Wide Web, they found some other selections that they felt were well worth the price of nothing.

Many folks want to hear the new Dr. Dre album. Many folks will want to hear the new Prince album. Many of those folks don’t want to pay for both or either streaming service. Many will download the albums for free from places not owned by Apple of Tidal. The services likely paid Dre and Prince and their record labels a pretty penny for the exclusivity. That’s the only way I can see anyone winning in this scenario, though will those labels win in the long run?

I subscribe to neither Apple Music nor Tidal. I have access to Amazon’s streaming service via my Amazon Prime subscription, but I can’t recommend that streaming service, as their music library is paltry. I use Spotify’s free tier. Its library is a good size and it is convenient. Because it is the most popular streaming service and available to everyone at no fee, I use it for this blog’s playlists.

Spotify isn’t perfect, however. Far from it. Many songs are misidentified and there are far too many cheesy re-recordings of songs in place of the original hit versions. Many of the tracks I’d love to include on our Friday dance playlists – Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” David Naughton’s “Makin’ It,” Junior’s “Mama Used to Say,” – are not available, save for crappy-sounding covers by the original acts.

Therefore, our weekly dance party doesn’t include any of those (or anything by Prince, who removed his music from Spotify to make his catalogue exclusive to Tidal). However, it does include twenty tunes to get you jumping, kicking off this week with Florence + the Machine, whose Florence Welch turns 29 today.


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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

While performing stand-up comedy in the late 1990s/early 2000s I appeared in several contests. More often than not I scored very well. In a contest at the club StandUp NY to find New York’s funniest gay man, I came in second. First place went to Seth Rudetsky. Around that same time both of us were entrants in another stand-up contest. Again, I came in second to Seth’s first.

Our acts were similar. Both of us were (are) thin New York gay Jews who mocked silly pop song lyrics in our sets. Seth talked about Sheena Easton’s “Morning Train” while I discussed Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.” I don’t begrudge him his first place winnings – he was great.

Seth went on to write for The Rosie O’Donnell Show, which garnered him several Emmy nominations. He has written for the Grammy Awards and the Tony Awards. He hosts a radio show on SiriusXM about Broadway musicals.

This past Tuesday my friend Scott and I attended Seth’s one-person show at Largo. His opening act was Judd Apatow. In the audience were Barbra Streisand, Sean Hayes, and the guy who played Valerie Cherish’s PR person on The Comeback. Also in the audience was me, the runner-up. Was I jealous? Was I bitter? You bet I was!

On the positive tip, I was inspired as well. It was a very fun show and gave me some ideas as to how to structure the one-person show I’ve been saying I will write for the past fourteen years. Destiny is calling me – open up my eager eyes, ‘cause I’m Mr. Brightside.

Our weekly dance party kicks off with The Killers.


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