Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (5-3-20)

2020 seemed like just another year, until this week. Something mind-boggling happened. No, the president of the U.S. didn’t display empathy. Get this: The Village People are presently in the Top 40 on the Adult Contemporary chart with a ballad taken from their 2019 Christmas album. The key terms in that sentence: Village People, presently, Top 40, Adult Contemporary, ballad, Christmas. It’s 2020! The song is called “If You Believe” and it jumped from #53 to #25 this week with a 310% increase in radio airplay over last week. “If You Believe?” More like “Hard to Believe!” Am I right, people?

Today’s playlist is inspired by the May 3 birthdays of James Brown, Frankie Valli, Father John Misty, Soft Cell’s David Ball, Pete Seeger, Christopher Cross, Mary Hopkin and Napoleon XIV.


Your Bastille Day Playlist

In seventh grade we were given the option of taking Spanish or being expelled. I opted for the former. I did well in Spanish class. When I moved on to high school in ninth grade, we had a foreign language requirement, our options being Spanish, French or Swahili. I stayed with Spanish.

Through music I was able to pick up bits and pieces of other languages. I picked up some French phrases from Labelle and Talking Heads. I learned some Japanese from The Police and Robyn. The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield recorded Italian-language versions of a couple of their hits, and The Beatles recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You” in German.

Limited as it was, this knowledge of foreign languages served me well when I moved into Sony Music’s International division. I could converse with our affiliates and licensees around the world. Sure, all I knew how to say to the folks in our French office was “Would you like to go to bed with me tonight?” and “What is it?,” but that’s all I needed to say. They appreciated the effort.

As today is Bastille Day and this blog has a French name, I created a playlist to help you with your French and your French kissing. Amusez-vous!

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Bowie art

Young Americans

Bowie art

I bought David Bowie’s Young Americans album on cassette on 1975. It was my first Bowie purchase. The album reflected Bowie’s then–obsession with American soul music and was much different than his prior releases, which made him a sensation in the U.K. but not in the U.S.

Most of it was recorded in Philadelphia at Sigma Sound Studios, American’s most successful black-owned music company after Motown. In 1974 alone 24 r&b/pop crossover hits were recorded there.

A 23 year-old pre-fame Luther Vandross sang and arranged the backing vocals.

David Bowie performing “Young Americans on The Dick Cavett Show, with Luther Vandross singing backup

Bowie didn’t start recording his vocals until 2 or 3 in the morning, as he heard Frank Sinatra didn’t record vocals for his records until after midnight and he is an icon, something Bowie aspired to be.

On his Diamond Dogs tour Bowie performed a song by The Flares called “Foot Stomping.” He rearranged the music from that tune to make it more r&b-sounding. John Lennon, who Bowie met the year before at a party thrown by Elizabeth Taylor, was in the studio and played a riff on the guitar from a then current disco hit by an artist named Shirley (And Company) called “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Bowie changed Shame to Fame and wrote the lyrics. They recorded “Fame” together with Lennon singing the falsetto backup. They also collaborated on a cover of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe,” also on the Young Americans album. A third nod to Lennon is on the song “Young Americans,” which samples a lyric from The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” (“I heard the news today, oh boy”).

Performing “Fame” on Cher’s variety show

After the full album was recorded Bowie played it for invited guests, including Lennon, Paul & Linda McCartney, Bette Midler, Manhattan Transfer and Bob Dylan. Dylan told him he thought it was terrible.

The American public felt differently. In early 1975 the title track hit the US top thirty, something Bowie managed to do only once before with “Space Oddity” in 1973. The next single, “Fame,” went to #1 on the pop charts and hit the top 30 on the soul chart, earning him a guest appearance on Soul Train.

Young Americans was the album that made Bowie a star in America.

Tuesday’s Tunes du Jour playlist is dedicated to David Bowie, who turns 67 the next day. Among the Bowie tracks, collaborations, covers and tributes are Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes,” the hit Bowie wrote for them after they rejected his offer of recording his “Suffragette City,” which Bowie then recorded himself, and Iggy Pop’s version of “China Girl,” a song the two co-wrote and Pop released six years before Bowie did his version.

Der Fuehrer’s Face

“Der Fuehrer’s Face” was the first hit song for Spike Jones and His City Slickers, a pre-rock & roll Ylvis. The wacky recording, on which Hitler gets razzed, was written for an Academy Award-winning Walt Disney cartoon originally entitled Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. The song hit #3 on the pop charts in 1942.

I was introduced to the song by Dr. Demento, whose radio show initially existed to present rare old recordings, but morphed into a showcase for novelty records after listeners requested such tunes repeatedly.

Jones’ orchestra is best-remembered for their Christmas evergreen “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” written by an elementary school teacher named Donald Gardner, who upon asking his students what they want for Christmas noticed that most of them were missing teeth.

Jones, who passed away in 1965, was born on this day in 1911.Today’s playlist is inspired by him and includes other songs that were popular on The Dr. Demento Show with some stand-up comedy thrown in.

Monty Python to Reunite – Life Gets a Little Brighter

This week, the surviving members of Monty Python announced they are reuniting for a show that will take place at London’s O2 Arena on July 1, 2014. The last time they performed together was at the Aspen Comedy Festival in 1998. In addition to their best-known skits, the troupe promises new material. At a press conference announcing the show, Eric Idle said the audience can expect “comedy, pathos, music and a tiny piece of ancient sex.”

When I was a kid I would watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS. The program provided absurd premises (a ministry of silly walks, an eatery frequented by Vikings that includes Spam as an ingredient in all their dishes, a clinic where one can drop in and pay to have an argument, though if you go into the wrong room you’ll get hit-on-the-head lessons), bizarre animation and, on the best episodes, images of ladybreasts.

July 1 falls smack dab in the middle of London’s rainy season (rainy season in London goes from Jan. 1 thru Dec. 31), so I probably won’t attend the show. However, I have my Python DVDs and recordings to get me through. Today’s playlist, a tribute to the group, kicks off with “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the song that plays at the end of the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. In the film, Brian, played by Graham Chapman, is despondent, seeing as he is nailed to a cross and certain to die. On a nearby cross is Idle, who attempts to cheer up Chapman with this ditty.

A survey conducted in England in 2005 revealed this to be the third most popular tune Britons would like played at their funeral. Indeed, the remaining members of Monty Python sang it at the 1989 funeral of Chapman.