Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (5-15-20)

I’m surprised and saddened by the news of the passing of Jorge Santana. I got to work with Carlos Santana’s brother in 2018 on a reissue of his solo work, put out by Omnivore Recordings. I also worked on an anthology of his work with his band, Malo. Just last month Jorge and I were exchanging emails, discussing his new music and how California’s AB5 law will affect his ability to promote it. He was so nice and a pleasure to work with. He will be missed by many.

Today’s playlist is inspired by Jorge’s passing and by the May 15 birthdays of The Furious Five’s Melle Mel, P.M. Dawn’s Prince Be, Eddy Arnold, Mike Oldfield, Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt, and Brian Eno.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3U2T2ML7nzw1hizieScjRm

Message In Our Music: A Black Music Month Playlist

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared June Black Music Month. In 2016, President Barack Obama, who recognized the month as African-American Music Appreciation Month, said the music of African-American artists helped the country “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Today’s Tunes du Jour playlist embodies that sentiment.

(The Spotify embed function is not working.)

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Winston + MJ

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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Winston + Soft Cell

Throwback Thursday – 1982

As a songwriter, Gloria Jones charted with Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “If I Were Your Woman,” the Four Tops’ “Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life),” and Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross’ “My Mistake (Was to Love You).” As a producer, Gloria Jones hit the top ten on the disco chart with Gonzalez’s “Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.” But as a lead singer, Jones failed to make the pop, r&b or dance charts.

In 1973, while on a trip to the United States, British DJ Richard Searling purchased a copy of a Gloria Jones single from 1965. The A-side was a song called “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home,” but it was the B-side that really got Searling’s attention.

Northern soul music (uptempo American soul music in a sixties Motown vein yet without commercial success) had a large cult following in the northern England at that time, and Searling played the Gloria Jones b-side during his sets.

Northern soul fan David Ball loved the song. When he and his musical partner, Mark Almond, who together comprised the duo Soft Cell, were looking for a song to cover, they went with the Jones song, thinking it would be interesting for a synth band to cover a soul tune. Their record label asked them to add guitar, bass and drums to the track, but the duo refused. Despite this, the label put out the singer. Almond told Rolling Stone magazine “We thought if we were really lucky, we’d scrape into the top 75 in Britain. We didn’t think anything would happen over here [in the US].”

Soft Cell’s recording of “Tainted Love” became a smash worldwide. In the US, it spent 43 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100, a record at that time. Said Gloria Jones of the Soft Cell recording “Their version was far better than mine.”

Winston + Soft Cell
This week, Tunes du Jour celebrates Throwback Thursday with twenty great tunes from 1982, kicking off with Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love,” but first, check out Gloria Jones’ original:



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PSB + Ringo

It’s Neil Tennant’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

In 1983, a writer for the UK’s Smash Hits magazine, along with a friend he met two years earlier in a music shop, inspired by such disparate sources as a James Cagney film, a T.S. Eliot poem, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message,” recorded a rap tune contrasting two parts of London and people’s need to escape the pressures of everyday life.

The song, released on Bobcat Records, got some attention in Los Angeles, Canada, Belgium, and in dance clubs in parts of Europe and North America.

PSB + Ringo
In 1985 the duo rerecorded the song for their new label, EMI. This time around, “West End Girls” became a worldwide pop smash.

Today Neil Tennant turns 61 years old. Tunes du Jour kicks off its weekly dance party with the biggest British rap hit to hit the U.S. charts.


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Brandeis ID

It’s Friday And I Need To Dance! – College Reunion Edition

Brandeis ID
On the Facebook page for my thirty-year college reunion, which is coming up this June, someone brought up the music that reminds them of our college days. Many posts followed, naming songs that remind us of shared experiences at Brandeis University in the first half of the 1980s.

That post inspired today’s playlist. Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour, and today I present 50 songs we danced to in the Usdan Ballroom at Brandeis University between the fall of 1981 and the spring of 1985. It was a great time for popular music. These songs have stood the test of time.

Have a great weekend!

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