Today is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. You’re officially allowed to start listening to holiday music now. To get you started, I compiled a playlist of what I consider to be 100 of the best Christmas songs. Okay, 98 songs, a stand-up routine and a skit. It’s a mix of standards, versions of standards with which you may not be familiar, and obscure but delightful tunes.
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In 1979, Giorgio Moroder, famous mostly for his production work on Donna Summer records, composed the score for the film American Gigolo. He asked Stevie Nicks to sing the movie’s theme song, for which Moroder wrote the music, but she had to decline for contractual reasons. He next turned to Deborah Harry of Blondie.
Harry write the lyrics to the song that became “Call Me,” the second #1 single for her band. Of her experience with Moroder, she told Billboard “He’s very nice to work with, very easy, (but) I don’t think he has a lot of patience with people who fool around or don’t take what they do seriously. I think he’s very serious about what he does and he’s intense and he’s a perfectionist and he’s very talented, so I think that people who are less talented or less concentrated bore him quickly…you really have to pay attention.”
Said Moroder of working with Blondie, “There were always fights. I was supposed to do an album with them after that. We went to the studio, and the guitarist was fighting with the keyboard player. I called their manager and quit.”
Moroder did end up working with Deborah Harry again years later on another soundtrack song, producing “Rush Rush” from Scarface, and in 2004 remixed Blondie’s single “Good Boys.”
Tunes du Jour’s Throwback Thursday playlist this week spotlights the best of 1980, kicking off with Blondie’s “Call Me.”
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There was an article on the site Gawker yesterday about a woman named Zoe Fennessy who, when she hears the music of Ne-Yo, “freezes up and begins vomiting uncontrollably.” You may say the same thing happens to you when you listen to Nickelback, but Ms. Fennessy’s reaction to Ne-Yo’s music is due to a rare medical condition called musicogenic epilepsy.
Some of you may be saying “Who’s Ne-Yo? Is he/she/they someone whose music gets played a lot?” The answer is, apparently. Since his first hit in 2006 (“So Sick,” which went to #1 on the US and UK pop charts), Ne-Yo has had 17 top forty hits on the US pop chart and a half-dozen more on the r&b chart. He has had just as many hits in the UK, where Fennessy lives.
Ne-Yo isn’t the only artist to cause seizures in people with this condition. Around ten years ago there was a report of a six-month-old who had seizures when she heard The Beatles. The Beatles! That shit ain’t right, yo. One may get a reaction from all classical music, another from the lower notes played on a brass instrument.
The reactions people with the condition have vary as well. Some have convulsions, others become incontinent, and others become incredibly sleepy.
Ms. Fennessy had part of her brain removed to try and cure the problem, but the operation was not a success. She still needs to steer clear of Ne-Yo’s music.
Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour, and if Ms. Fennessy is reading, she’ll be happy to know there is no Ne-Yo on today’s playlist, which kicks off with the Jason Nevins remix of “It’s Like That” by Run-D.M.C., whose Joseph “Run” Simmons turns 50 today.
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Ten Facts about Grandmaster & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”
1. Yes, the word “don’t” is repeated in the parenthetical.
2. Melle Mel was the most prominent rapper in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Grandmaster Flash was the DJ, not a rapper.
3. Though credited to Grandmaster & Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash does not appear on “White Lines,” nor did he appear on the classic “The Message” (“it’s like a jungle sometimes / It makes me wonder how I keep from going under”). Forced out of the group that bore his name, Flash sued Melle Mel and their label, Sugarhill Records, over the use of his name to sell records, the result of which was the odd artist credit on the “White Lines” single.
4. Flash heard “White lines,” about the dangers of cocaine addiction, while on his way to buy crack.
5. Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel reunited in 1987 at a charity concert hosted by Paul Simon.
6. The bassline was lifted from Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern.”
7. The record credits Melle Mel and Sylvia Robinson as the song’s writers. Robinson was the head of Sugarhill Records. Previously, she had a hit in 1973 with “Pillow Talk,” a song she wrote for Al Green, who declined to record it, and as one-half of Mickey & Sylvia, she took the classic ”Love is Strange” to #11 in 1957.
8. The lyrics include a reference to car manufacturer John DeLorean (“A businessman is caught with 24 kilos”). In 1982 the FBI arrested DeLorean for purchasing 24 kilos of coke. The song compares his fate (“He’s out on bail and out of jail”) with that of an inner city youth (“A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time. He got out three years from now just to commit more crime.”).
9. An unofficial music video for the song was directed by an NYU student named Spike Lee. It starred Laurence Fishburne, the actor who at that time was playing Cowboy Curtis on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
10. The record hit the top ten on the US dance chart in 1983. It kicks off Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party.
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“Today is Grandmaster Flash’s birthday and schools are closed. Thank you, President Obama.”
– Chris Rock
My plan was to write a post about how great “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” is, but the website Songfacts expressed it perfectly, so I’ll reprint what they wrote:
Folks born after the dawn of Hip-Hop will probably read about this song, listen to it, and wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, it’s just a bunch of dance songs mixed together, and it’s kind of a harsh mix. The big deal is that it was the first song ever made by chopping up pieces of other songs and connecting them in a way to create a new track. It introduced sampling, and spotlighted the cutting and scratching techniques that were the hallmarks of early Hip Hop. Today, any kid can easily make something like this with software that probably came preloaded on his computer, but in 1981, it required 2 turntables and some serious beatmixing skills. Grandmaster Flash was a DJ, not a rapper, and he had been performing in New York city since 1976, often as the entertainment at parties. His art was in figuring out how to mix songs together using their breakbeats, so the music would keep going. He was also one of the first to do scratching, which was moving the record back and forth on the turntable, which made the transitions a lot easier.
There was no editing on this track – Grandmaster Flash did it live in the studio after mapping out his cuts. He would put marks on the labels of his records so he would know when to bring the next one in, which is something he learned playing years of parties. It took him a few takes to get all his cues in the right place, but the end result at the time sounded like perfection. In the era of remixing and editing, every beat can be scrutinized and altered, but considering what Flash accomplished with what he had to work with, it was remarkable and extraordinary. It also demonstrated what you would hear at one of his live performances.
Today’s playlist is inspired by this old school hip-hop classic.
In the grocery store yesterday I heard the most joyless version of “Joy to the World.” I heard a dull version of “White Christmas” that made me glad it was 77 degrees outside. I heard a rendition “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” so lifeless it would make Kris Kringle say “Fuck this – I’m staying home.”
My fourth and final Christmas playlist for 2013 includes more festive fare. Mostly it consists of Christmas songs that have not been overplayed. Some of the holiday classics are represented – “The Little Drummer Boy” as performed by Iggy Pop and RuPaul’s twist on “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” in which mommy is not the parent doing the kissing.