Inspired by the September 22 birthdays of Joan Jett, Nick Cave, Mystikal, Debby Boone, Martin Solveig, Pat Suzuki, Right Said Fred’s Richard Fairbrass, The Rentals’ Matt Sharp, Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, Timebox’s Mike Patto and The Jones Girls’ Shirley Jones.
Around ten years ago I took up boxing. Not as a career, but as a form of exercise. I’d never watched a match on TV – too violent for my tastes. The idea to give it a try came from my trainer at Crunch Gym. Not my first trainer – he seldom showed up for our appointments. Not my second trainer, an asshole who ignored Crunch’s slogan “No judgments” and mocked my appearance throughout our sessions, while bragging about how he once made a female client of his cry. It was the idea of my third trainer at Crunch, the actor who often called me as I was five minutes from the gym to tell me he won’t make our session as he was still at an audition. Yes, that trainer. He showed up for our appointments around 60% of the time, which was better than my first Crunch trainer. He introduced me to boxing. I learned the upper cut, the cross, the jab, the duck, some other thing that involved me not getting punched in the face, and kicks. It was great exercise, especially on those days when I came to Crunch after a frustrating day at work. I’d punch that bag like I was seeing the face of one of the assholes with whom I worked. It got out the tension and got me into great physical shape.
I dumped that trainer once I decided a 60% show-up-for-your-job rate was inadequate for my aggression-releasing needs. I continued sparring with the fourth trainer Crunch assigned me, that is when he wasn’t flirting with the female clientele or taking weights from the floor and stuffing them in his duffle bag so as to build up his home gym.
When it came renewal time I left Crunch and their lot of unprofessional trainers and signed up at 24-Hour Fitness. Though it is literally a few steps from my home, I didn’t go to the location in West Hollywood, whose equipment, like its clientele, was old and decrepit. I went to the Hollywood location, where I was assigned a trainer who was so good, we worked out together for a few years. He introduced me to that hot actor who I later saw as a defendant on Judge Judy. He won his case. A few years later the West Hollywood location of 24-Hour Fitness closed for three and a half months. It reopened with fresh new equipment and fresh new customers, though oddly, it still was not open 24 hours, at least not in a single day.
Unfortunately, there was no boxing at 24-Hour Fitness. While at a local smoothie ship I saw a business card for a boxing coach who did private training at his home. He converted his unattached garage (is that the right word – unattached? I mean detached, right? Either way, you get my drift – his garage was not attached to his house.) into a boxing ring. He used to be a professional boxer and was a model as well. Our sessions were great, and not just because he’d say goodbye to me each week with a kiss on the lips, his heterosexuality be damned. Once he kissed me on the neck. Why did I stop seeing him? No recuerdo. Maybe it had something to do with a mental ward.
I’ve had one or two trainers and taken some boxing classes since then, but they weren’t as much fun. Something was missing, besides the kisses. Still, if one were to put me in a boxing ring today with Barbra Streisand, I think I could take her down. It’s not that I have a desire to punch Barbra Streisand, nor do we have a bout on the books. I’m saying this as a poor segue into mentioning her 1979 film The Main Event, in which she portrayed a boxer manager/perfume magnate.
The film re-teamed Barbra Streisand with Ryan O’Neal, seven years after their film What’s Up, Doc? What’s Up, Doc? is a great movie. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly suggest you do, even if you’re not a fan of Barbra Streisand. Especially if you’re not a fan of Barbra Streisand. You’ll see a whole other side of her in this movie. Ryan O’Neal is great. Madeline Kahn made her feature film debut in this movie. How can you go wrong with Madeline Kahn? Austin Pendleton is in it. Kenneth Mars is in it. A lot of people are in it. I think I’ll host a viewing of it at my condo. Let me know if you’re around and interested. You should be interested.
I never saw The Main Event. Critics panned it, but the public enjoyed it. I have the soundtrack album, which includes the hit single “The Main Event/Fight.” Three times – the 45 mix, the 12-inch mix, and as a ballad. The latter is solely the song “The Main Event.” “The Main Event/Fight” is a medley. “The Main Event” was written by Paul Jabara, whose writing credits also include Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” and The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” (on a side note, does anybody know if Chaka Khan is okay?) and Bruce Roberts, whose writing credits also include Laura Branigan’s “The Lucky One” and that Jeffrey Osborne song that goes “Can you woo woo woo?”. “Fight” was written by Jabara and Bob Esty. Esty’s writing credits also include Cher’s “Take Me Home.”
“The Main Event/Fight” is, with the Donna Summer duet “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” my favorite Barbra Streisand single. I like my boxing coaches kissy and my Barbra Streisand songs peppy.
Today Barbra Streisand turns 73 years old. “The Main Event/Fight” kicks off Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party.
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Billboard magazine’s first disco chart was published in October of 1974. Its #1 song was “Never Can Say Goodbye” performed by Gloria Gaynor. That record stayed on top for four weeks, soon crossing over to the pop chart, where it peaked at #9.
An eighteen-plus minute medley of “Honey Bee,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” reached #2 on the Disco chart in early 1975, leading to Gaynor being named “Queen of the Discos” by the National Association of Discotheque Disc Jockeys in March of that year.
Six more top ten disco hits followed in 1975 and 1976, but then her fortunes dried up. Her sole entry on the Disco chart in 1977 reached only #38. Her next charted disco single was over a year later, and peaked at #24. By this point, Donna Summer was the new Queen of Disco. Summer was also crossing over onto the pop chart, while Gaynor’s sole top 40 pop single was “Never Can Say Goodbye.” She failed to crack the Hot 100 in 1976 and 1977.
Her record company, Polydor, reached out to producer Dino Fekaris and asked him to produce for Gaynor a cover of the Righteous Brothers track “Substitute,” then a recent hit overseas for a group called Clout.
Fekaris was a staff songwriter at Motown Record for almost seven years before the company let him go. Determined not to let that career setback derail him, Fekaris got together with his songwriter and production partner Freddie Perren, who also had a stint at Motown, and wrote a song about getting over the fear of the unknown and surviving what life throws at you. They wanted a woman to record the track, but didn’t have anybody in mind. They decided to give the song to the next diva they work with. That’s when Polydor called with the Gaynor gig.
As requested by her label boss, Gaynor recorded “Substitute” to be the A-side of her next single, but the song about survival, which she recorded to be the record’s B-side, really resonated with her. Besides her career troubles, she recently lost her mother and fell on stage while performing, which required her to undergo spinal surgery and spend six months in the hospital. She recorded the tracks wearing a back brace.
“Substitute” was released in the fall of 1978. It failed to make the Hot 100.
One night around that time, Studio 54 DJ Ritchie Kaczor flipped over “Substitute” and played its B-side. The patrons ignored it that first time, but Kaczor kept playing it. Eventually, it became the club’s most popular cut. Soon, all New York City clubs were playing the track.
In November 1978 Vince Aletti wrote in Record World magazine that this song “is Gaynor’s very best work in years…delivered with such relish that one can’t help but get caught up in the emotion.”
In Boston, disco radio DJ Jack King played the single’s B-side and reported that “my listeners went nuts!” Seeing the response this song was getting, Polydor reissued the single with “Substitute” as the B-side. The A-side was now the anthem “I Will Survive.”
In January 1979, “I Will Survive” returned Gloria Gaynor to #1 on the Disco chart, where she remained for three weeks. In March of that year the record hit #1 on the Hot 100, where it also stayed for three weeks. It went on to become a smash around the world.
At the 22nd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony on February 27, 1980, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” won for Best Disco Recording, the only time that award has ever been given, over Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?,” Earth Wind & Fire with The Emotions’ “Boogie Wonderland,” and then Queen of Disco Donna Summer’s Bad Girls.
“I Will Survive” kicks off Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party.
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Every April, to coincide with Tax Day, my former Sony colleague Rich Appel creates the IRS countdown. In this case, IRS stands for It Really Shoulda, as in It Really Shoulda been a top ten hit. People vote for songs that they feel should have but didn’t make the top ten of Billboard’s Hot 100. Rich collates all of the entries and comes out with the Top 100 IRS songs.
Today is my birthday. Usually on birthdays, Tunes du Jour creates a playlist around the music of the birthday boy or girl. As Friday is dance day in these parts, I decided I would take inspiration from Rich’s IRS countdown and present to you a playlist of songs that I love to dance to that didn’t crack the pop top ten. Here are fifty such IRS tracks. (Actually, fifty-one, not because that’s how old I am but because the Diana Ross entry is two songs.) It’s my birthday and I need to dance!
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Ebola is now in the US. Isis is on its way. Unarmed civilians are getting shot by law enforcement officials. Civil wars, mass kidnappings, volcanoes, a new Lenny Kravitz album. It’s a scary world!
I got my flu vaccination earlier this week, so I have one less thing to worry about. There is a movement against the flu vaccine, but the flu is mighty unpleasant and can lead to death. I’d rather go on living and enjoying my life with a little mercury in my system than deal with chills, fever, a runny nose, a sore throat, muscle pains, a severe headache, coughing, and/or fatigue. If I wanted to be in that much pain I’d listen to the new Lenny Kravitz album.
Though I get my flu shot every year, the needle always scares me. This year the doctor used a very small needle. I barely felt it and I’m happy to say I suffered no side effects. I feel great and energized, which is great because it’s Friday and I need to dance.
We’ll kick off this week’s dance playlist with the only Fleetwood Mac song to make the US dance chart, “Big Love.” The track was written, co-produced and sung by FM’s Lindsey Buckingham, who turns 65 today.
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The 1970s were all about Star Wars and disco. One man had the brilliant idea to combine the two. Is it an overstatement to call Meco Monardo a genius? His disco version of the Star Wars score was a #1 hit in 1977.
That’s his only top ten hit where he is credited as the artist; however, Meco arranged the horns on Tommy James and the Shondells’ smash “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” played the trombone on Diana Ross’ classic “I’m Coming Out,” and, alongside Jay Ellis, Harold Wheeler and Tony Bongiovi, produced Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and Carol Douglas’ “Doctor’s Orders.”
He revisited the Star Wars connection in 1980 when he released Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album, which includes the holiday evergreen “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” and “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which features vocals by Tony Bongiovi’s second cousin John (who later dropped the “h” from his first name and changed the spelling of his last name. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.)
As it’s Friday, our playlist is designed to get you dancing into the weekend. It’s Meco’s birthday, so we’ll start with his track that encapsulates the seventies.