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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (3-17-20)

Inspired by the March 17 birthdays of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, Nat King Cole, Gene Ween, The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins, Altered Images’ Clare Grogan, and Hozier; and the March 16 birthdays of Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Blu Cantrell, and Murs.

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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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Throwback Thursday – 1981

me before promThe blogger in 1981, before heading to the senior prom

For this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, we revisit 1981. The 1981 Grammy Award for Album of the Year went to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy. The Best New Artist was Shena Easton. Record of the Year and Song of the Year went to “Bette Davis Eyes,” performed by Kim Carnes. Both Carnes and Easton were nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, along with Olivia Newton-John for “Physical” and Juice Newton for “Angel of the Morning,” but those ladies lost to Lena Horne for “WTF?”. Rick Springfield won Best Rock Performance, Male (naturally) for “Jessie’s Girl.” “Just the Two of Us,” the Grover Washington, Jr./Bill Withers hit, took home the trophy for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.

Here are some of 1981’s biggest hits:

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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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Beck, Kanye and Beyoncé

“I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists, to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should’ve given his award to Beyoncé. Because when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in their face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day, and they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place.” – Kanye West on the Grammy Award for Album of the Year going to Beck’s Morning Phase rather than Beyoncé’s self-titled release

“I thought she was going to win. Come on, she’s Beyoncé! You can’t please everybody, man. I still love [West] and think he’s genius. I aspire to do what he does.” – Beck

“I wasn’t saying Beck; I said the Grammys. Beck knows that Beyoncé should have won; you know that. Come on, man. I love Beck! But he didn’t have the Album of the Year.” – Kanye West

Kanye West, official spokesperson for the Bey Nation, gave his opinion and the Internet blew up! It was a repeat of 2009, when West announced that Taylor Swift stole the MTV Best Female Video Award that should have gone to Beyoncé. The American people were up in arms! So much vitriol was sent West-ward and his detractors found plenty of reasons to go after him the ensuing years. As the wise trophy thief said, “the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.”

Kanye’s point was about creating art and reaching new heights in one’s craft. The only intelligent responses to further this discourse, per the many comments I saw on Facebook and Twitter, are “You’re classless” and “You’re garbage.” One person who didn’t call Kanye garbage was Shirley Manson, the lead singer of the band Garbage. She called him “a complete twat.”

At least all of us can sleep better knowing that Kanye loves Beck. They are two of my favorite all-time artists for many of the same reasons. They seldom repeat themselves, making each album they release different than the previous one. Neither follows trends. Both challenge themselves. Both are masters of their craft. Both can be sincere. Both can be funny. Neither has released a bad record.

However…

Beyoncé should have gotten the Album of the Year Grammy. Her self-titled album was a revelation. Following up her uneven 4, she took a giant leap forward and strived to make something more artistic than what we were used to from her. She succeeded. The Beck record, Morning Phase, sounds beautiful, but there were no surprises. It was announced early in 2014 that Beck would be releasing a new album that was in a mellow vein. I got what I expected. It was as fine as I thought it would be, and stronger than his last couple of releases. I like Morning Phase very much, more than the other nominated Albums of the Year performed by Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Pharrell Williams, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard Beck do before. Ironically, in Beyoncé’s quest to be more artistic, her album outsold its predecessor. Like Kanye said, she had the Album of the Year.

Enough of the Grammy voters felt otherwise and awarded Beck. That’s fine. There have been worse slights in the Grammy Album of the Year category than Beyoncé losing to Beck. What about the 1996 awards, when Beck’s Odelay lost to Celine Dion’s Falling into You? Or in 2000, when Beck’s Midnight Vultures lost to Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature? Or in 2005, when U2’s Hot to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb beat Kanye’s Late Registration and in 2004, when Ray Charles & Friends’ Genius Loves Company beat Kanye’s The College Dropout and Green Day’s American Idiot? Steely Dan, U2 and Ray Charles have released many albums deserving of Album of the Year. These weren’t them. U2 should have won 1992’s Album of the Year for Achtung Baby. They lost to Eric Clapton Unplugged. In 2007, Kanye’s Graduation and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black both lost Album of the Year to Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, a record that literally nobody has ever heard. In 1980, Christopher Cross’ self-titled debut beat Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In 1966, The Beatles’ Revolver lost to Frank Sinatra’s A Man and His Music. In 2012, Mumford & Sons’ Babel beat albums by Frank Ocean, Jack White and The Black Keys. The nominees for 1984’s Album of the Year Grammy were Prince’s Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer, Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, and Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. Four classic albums plus one by Lionel Richie. The winner? Lionel Richie! WTF on a stick?!?! In 1991 the Album of the Year Grammy didn’t go to R.E.M., nominated for Out of Time. It went to Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable…with Love. Eligible but not nominated that year? A little album called Nevermind by a band named Nirvana. Oh well, whatever. In 1982, Toto IV beat…it doesn’t matter who else was nominated. It’s Toto Fuckin’ IV, people.

It looks like Beyoncé will have to wait longer before she is in the same hallowed company as Toto.

In less contentious news this week, ISIS killed U.S. hostage Kayla Mueller, Boko Haram killed thirteen soldiers and 81 civilians in Chad, and the Chief Justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court forbade probate judges in that state to issue marriage license to same-sex couples, despite a judge’s ruling that such unions are legal and the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to issue a stay on that ruling.

Congratulations, Beck!

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The Song Retains The Name

Winston + Bobby Brown
Today is Bobby Brown’s 46th birthday. A former member of New Edition, Brown had his first solo hit in 1988 with “Don’t Be Cruel,” which reached #8 on the Hot 100. Though it shares its title with an Elvis Presley #1 hit from 1956, Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is not a remake.

That brings us to today’s playlist, which I call The Song Retains the Name. It consists of different songs with the same title. I initially planned to include twenty such songs, but more kept springing to mind. Before I knew it, I passed 100 entries. There are plenty more, so I decided to open this up to my reader(s). If you have songs that share titles you’d like to add, feel free to do so.

(NOTES: I included The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” because when it was released in 1980 its title was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Thought he didn’t have to, Michael Jackson, the song’s writer, later changed its name to “This Place Hotel” to avoid confusion with the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel.” Whitney Houston didn’t feel the need to make the same Hotel accommodation.

Also, though it is listed on Spotify as “The Best of My Love,” the Eagles track does not have a “The” on the 45 or the band’s On the Border album.)

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It’s Sheila E’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

Prince wrote the song “The Glamorous Life” for the Apollonia 6 album. According to Apollonia, he wrote the song about her. Per Nilsen, who has written a couple of book about Prince, quotes Apollonia as saying “He used to make all these stupid jokes, ‘You’re the kind of chick who would wear a mink coat in the summertime.’ To this day I don’t have my own mink coat!”

Prince ended up giving the song to Sheila E. for her debut solo album. Prior to meeting Prince Sheila worked with Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock, George Duke, Billy Cobham, Jeffrey Osborne, Con Funk Shun, and her dad, Pete Escovedo.

In 1984 “The Glamorous Life” hit #7 on the pop chart, #9 on the r&b chart, and #1 on the dance chart.

Ringo + Sheila E
Today Sheila E. turns 57 years old. We kick off our weekly dance party with her first hit single.

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It’s Berry Gordy’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

It’s interesting that Berry Gordy, the head of Motown Records who in 1970 told his top male vocalist Marvin Gaye that the new song Gaye had written, “What’s Going On,” was “the worst thing I ever heard in my life” and that he shouldn’t do protest songs, would five years later have Motown be the first major label to release a pro-gay anthem.

Bunny Jones, a heterosexual Christian woman, owned several beauty salons in Harlem. Most of her employees were gay. Seeing how they needed to suppress their natural selves and being aware of the issues they faced, she wrote song lyrics about a man who says he’s “happy, carefree and gay,” the way God made him.

Set to music written by Chris Spierer, also straight, Jones looked for a male vocalist to record her song. After catching a performance of Hair at the Westbury Music Fair, she approached one of the show’s actors, Charles “Valentino” Harris, and told him of the song.

In 1975, at age 22, Valentino recorded his only record, a single entitled “I Was Born This Way.” Jones released it on a label she started, named Gaiee. On her own she sold 15,000 copies of the song. This got the attention of Berry Gordy, whose Motown Records picked up the single for distribution.

Valentino’s record got some club play, particularly in the UK where it was a #1 disco hit.

Two years later Motown approached a gospel singer named Carl Bean and asked him if he would record a new version of “I Was Born This Way.” Unbeknownst to Motown, Bean was gay. In early 1978, Bean’s version of the tune reached #15 on the Billboard Disco chart.

The song has since become something of a classic. Two years after Bean’s success with “I Was Born This Way,” Motown released Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” It would hold the #1 position on the Disco chart for five weeks and have much crossover success at pop and r&b radio as well.

Today Berry Gordy celebrates his 85th birthday. Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour. Here are twenty of Motown’s best disco/dance tracks from the 1970s thru 1990.

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Glenn’s Ten – 8/12/14

Demi Lovato’s “Really Don’t Care” moves from #4 to #1 in Glenn’s Ten this week. There are three new entries – “New Dorp, New York” performed by SBTRKT featuring Ezra Koenig, “Chandelier” by Sia and “Dark Sunglasses” by Chrissie Hynde. This is SBTRK’s first appearance in Glenn’s Ten, while guest vocalist Koenig has been in the countdown a handful of times with his band, Vampire Weekend. Sia has been in Glenn’s Ten previously as a co-writer of Britney Spear’s “Perfume;” this is her first time in the ten as an artist. Chrissie Hynde showed up in Glenn’s Ten many times with her band Pretenders and with UB40 on a cover of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.”

Glenn’s Ten for this week is:
1. “Really Don’t Care” – Demi Lovato featuring Cher Lloyd
2. “Do You” – Spoon
3. “New Dorp, New York” – SBTRKT featuring Ezra Koenig
4. “All the Rage Back Home” – Interpol
5. “Chandelier” – Sia
6. “Nothing More than Everything to Me” – Christopher Owens
7. “You Are Your Mother’s Child” – Bright Eyes
8. “Dark Sunglasses” – Chrissie Hynde
9. “Left Hand Free” – Alt-J
10. “Heart is a Drum” – Beck

Rounding out today’s playlist are ten tunes that were #1 on this date in Glenn’s Ten history, in reverse chronological order.

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The #21 Album Of All-Time

On December 1, 1983, my friend Bruce and I went to The Metro in Boston to see Cyndi Lauper perform. We had heard her debut solo single, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (which would debut on the Hot 100 a couple of weeks later) and were smitten. We were more smitten after the show.

The album that produced “Girls…,” She’s So Unusual, was one of those great pop records that we got so many of in that ’83-’84 period (Thriller, Purple Rain, Born in the USA, Private Dancer and Madonna, among them – all on my all-time favorite albums list). It was the first album by a female artist to produce four top five singles – “Girls…,” “Time After Time,” “She Bop” and “All Through the Night.” Like the aforementioned albums by Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Tina Turner, it was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. All four albums lost to Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. No comment.

“Girls…” was nominated for Record of the Year and “Time After Time,” which Cyndi co-wrote, for Song of the Year; both lost to Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” which also won Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female over the nominated “Girls….” Cyndi did win the Best New Artist Grammy, beating out Sheila E., Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Corey Hart and The Judds.

Ringo + Cyndi 2014-06-22 09.12
Though not from the She’s So Unusual album, let’s talk about “True Colors” for a moment. The song was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, the songwriting duo who also wrote Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Steinberg’s original lyrics were about his mother, but Kelly convinced him to make them more universal. Once they did that, they offered the song to Anne Murray, but she turned it down. Cyndi Lauper picked it up, changed the arrangement the duo presented, and a classic was born. The record went to #1 and won Lauper another Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.

The song’s chorus, about not being afraid to let one’s true colors show, resonated with the gay population, and the song became an LGBT standard.

As June is Gay Pride month, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the work Cyndi has done on behalf of the LGBT populations:

– She’s written several songs about or inspired by LGBT lives, including “Boy Blue,” “Brimstone and Fire,” “Ballad of Cleo & Joe” and “Above the Clouds.”
– She was a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation board. The foundation’s namesake, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten and tied to a fence, left to die, because he was gay.
– In 2007 she launched the True Colors Tour, which raised money for the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign, who advocate for equal rights for LGBT people. Other artists on the tour included Erasure, Deborah Harry, Gossip and Dresden Dolls.
– She advocated for the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and was present at the White House when President Obama signed the Act into law in 2009. The Act expanded the 1969 US hate crimes law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. It is the first federal law to extend legal protections to transgender people.
– She designed a t-shirt for 2009’s Fashion Against AIDS campaign.
– She is the cofounder of the True Colors Fund, created “to raise awareness about and bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness, and to inspire everyone, especially straight people, to become active participants in the advancement of equality for all.” In 2010 the Fund launched the Give a Damn Campaign to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students as well as discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace.
– Upon learning that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and that three times as many LGBT youth commit suicide as compared to their heterosexual counterparts, in 2012 Lauper started to Forty to None Project to raise awareness of the problems faced by LGBT youth and set up the True Colors Residence in New York City to offer shelter and aid for these kids.
– She was Grand Marshall of New York City’s Gay Pride Parade in 2012.
– She wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, based on the film about a straitlaced shoe factory owner and a drag queen who team up to save the business. The 2013 musical won the Tony Award for Best Score, making Lauper one of only four women to have won a Tony, a Grammy and an Emmy.

Today one of the LGBT populations’ greatest allies, Cyndi Lauper, turns 61. Our playlist includes some of the tracks for my #21 album of all-time, She’s So Unusual, alongside some other Lauper favorites.

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