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A Fourth Of July Playlist

On the fourth of July in 1776, the Declaration of Independence, in which the thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, was adopted.

None of the songs in today’s playlist address the events of 1776 directly. However, the song selection is inspired by our 4th of July holiday.

Besides being great songs on their own, the collection represents one of the great things about the United States – its diversity. Long considered a melting pot where people of different backgrounds and beliefs could come to achieve their dreams and goals, the U.S. of A. is powerful and innovative as a result of this blend of people. Today’s playlist represents this diversity with a blend of genres – rock, funk, pop, Broadway, new wave, soul, and then some. Despite our differences, we are one nation, under a groove, with liberty and justice for all.

Whether or not you celebrate Independence Day, enjoy this Fourth of July-inspired playlist.


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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance – Maurice White Edition

Winston + EWF
The world lost another great music artist this week when Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, passed away from the effects of Parkinson ’s disease at age 74.

Formed in 1969, Earth, Wind & Fire have sold over 90 million records; been nominated for 17 Grammy Awards, winning six; been nominated for 12 American Music Awards, winning Favorite Soul, R&B Band, Duo or Group in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980; were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; won the Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award from the American Society of Composers and Publishers; won a Lifetime Achievement Awards from the BET Awards; received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; were inducted into the NAACP Hall of Fame; won the Soul Train Music Awards’ Legend Award; became the first African-American performers to receive the Columbia Records Crystal Globe Award for selling more than five million albums outside the United States; and became the first African-American act to sell out Madison Square Garden.

Outside of Earth, Wind & Fire’s nominations, Maurice White received an additional four Grammy nominations, winning one. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. As a producer, songwriter, vocalist or musician, he has worked on records by Weather Report, Barbra Streisand, Cher, Neil Diamond, Minnie Riperton, The Emotions, Ramsey Lewis, The Tubes, Barry Manilow, Deniece Williams, Atlantic Starr and Jennifer Holliday.

Earth, Wind & Fire scored seven platinum-certified albums, with 16 top 40 albums on the pop chart and 23 top 40 albums on the r&b chart. They’ve had 16 top 40 pop singles and 38 top 40 r&b singles. Many of their best-known songs are ballads – “That’s the Way of the World,” “After the Love Has Gone,” and “Reasons” among them – but Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour, so today’s playlist will focus on the group’s uptempo work, with tracks co-produced by White for The Emotions and Deniece Williams thrown in.


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Throwback Thursday – 1970

me - 1970The blogger in 1970

Today Tunes du Jour introduces Throwback Thursday playlists, in which we go back to hear some of the biggest hits from a particular year. We start with 1970, when you could hear Led Zeppelin and the Carpenters played back-to-back on your favorite AM Top 40 station..


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The Unsung Genius Of Billy Preston

Ringo + Billy Preston
Today is the birthday of the late, great Billy Preston. You may be familiar with his #1 hits “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing from Nothing.” Preston has many more accomplishments on his resume. Here are ten things you may not know about him:

1. He is the only person to be given a featuring credit on a Beatles single. The #1 smash “Get Back” and its b-side, “Don’t Let Me Down,” also a top 40 hit, were credited to The Beatles with Billy Preston. He also played on the band’s Abbey Road, Let It Be and self-titled albums (the latter often referred to as The White Album) and in their famous final rooftop concert. At one point John Lennon suggested having Preston become one of The Beatles.
2. He played on several albums by The Rolling Stones, including Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers, Tattoo You, It’s Only Rock‘n Roll and Goats Head Soup.
3. In 1958, twelve-year-old Preston played “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy as a child in the Handy biopic St. Louis Blues.
4. At age 15 Preston joined Little Richard’s band.
5. In 1967 Preston joined Ray Charles’ band.
6. He played on Sam Cooke’s final studio album, the critically-acclaimed Night Beat. Preston was 16 years old at the time.
7. Other artists on whose records Preston played include Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, MeShell NdegéOcello, Joni Mitchell, Jet, Neil Diamond, Sly & the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luther Vandross, the Everly Brothers, and Johnny Cash.
8. Preston co-wrote “You Are So Beautiful,” a top five single for Joe Cocker in 1975.
9. It has been written that Stephen Stills got the expression “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” from Preston. (Some reports say it was Doris Troy who gave Stills that phrase.)
10. George Harrison wrote and co-produced “My Sweet Lord” for Preston. It appeared on Billy’s 1970 Encouraging Words album, released on The Beatles’ Apple Records. Harrison went on to record his own version of the song for his All Things Must Pass album, on which Preston played. Perhaps you’ve heard the Harrison version.
11. Preston introduced George Harrison to a woman named Olivia Arias, who worked at A&M Records, for whom Billy recorded after he left Apple. Arias soon became Olivia Harrison.
12. So impressed by Preston’s music was Miles Davis that the jazz legend recorded a song called “Billy Preston” for his 1974 album Get Up With It.
13. Preston’s primary instrument was the organ. The first time he played the clavinet was on his hit “Outa-Space,” which reached #2 on the pop charts. The first time he played the Arp synthesizer was on his hit “Space Race,” which reached #4 on the pop chart.
14. Preston’s singles “Will It Go Round in Circles,” “Nothing from Nothing,” “Outa-Space” and “Space Race” each sold over one million copies in the United States alone.
15. As a solo artist Preston had ten top 40 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart.
16. Preston played Sgt. Pepper in the ill begotten film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of my favorite bad movies. In the film he sings “Get Back” to Billy Shears, played by Peter Frampton, just after Shears jumped off of a roof to kill himself. Perhaps I should have written SPOILER ALERT, but you can’t spoil something that stinks to begin with.
17. In 1972 Preston became the first rock performer to headline at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
18. Preston was a musical guest on the first episode of Saturday Night Live.
19. Preston started playing piano and singing church. About being gay in the church, Preston told writer David Ritz “In the community outside the church, gay men were called sissies. There was zero tolerance. But inside the church, a lot of music was created by gay men. It was almost a tradition. Everyone knew that my mentor James Cleveland, who became the King of Gospel, was gay….So many of the other major figures – like Professor J. Earle Hines out of Los Angeles and Professor Alex Bradford out of Chicago – were gay. Mahalia [Jackson] surrounded herself with gay men her entire life. In the neighborhood they made you ashamed of being gay, but in the church you were almost proud to be part of the gay elite of musicians.”
20. Preston died on June 6, 2006, from complications from malignant hypertension. He was 59 years old.

Here are twenty of the many highlights of Billy Preston’s recording career:


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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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Ten Facts About Neil Diamond

Ringo + Neil Diamond
1) “Sweet Caroline” has been played during every Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park since 2002. Over the past couple of years it has been played in tribute to the city of Boston and those directly affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.
2) The Monkees’ cover of Diamond’s “I’m a Believer” was the biggest hit of 1966 in the US. It remained at #1 for seven weeks. The Monkees also had a hit with Diamond’s “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” Other hit versions of Diamond compositions include UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” Deep Purple’s “Kentucky Woman” and Jay & the Americans’ “Sunday and Me.”
3) In 1977 Diamond released a solo version of a song he wrote entitled “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Shortly after, Barbra Streisand released her version of the song. An employee at a Kentucky radio station spliced the two versions together, creating a virtual duet. An official release of a duet version by Columbia Records, for whom both artists recorded, resulted in a #1 record. It was produced by Bob Gaudio of the Four Seasons.
4) “Solitary Man” was Diamond’s first charting single as a performer. In 2005 Rolling Stone magazine called it Diamond’s best, saying “There’s not a wasted word or chord in this two-and-a-half minute anthem of heartbreak and self-affirmation, which introduced the melancholy loner persona that he’s repeatedly returned to throughout his career.”
5) He starred in the 1980 version of the film The Jazz Singer, for which he was a nominee for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and the winner of the Razzie for Worst Actor. The film’s soundtrack became Diamond’s best-selling album and spawned three top ten singles: “Love on the Rocks,” “Hello Again” and bad song I love “America.”
6) “Cracklin’ Rosie” is slang used by a Canadian Indian tribe for a bottle of wine. The tribe had more men than women, so the men that didn’t get a girl got with Cracklin’ Rosie. The song “Cracklin’ Rosie” became Diamond’s first #1 single as a performer.
7) “Heartlight” was inspired by the film E.T., The Extraterrestrial.
8) Urge Overkill’s version of Diamond’s “Girl, You‘ll Be a Woman Soon” became a hit on the Modern Rock chart due to its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction. Diamond initially withheld the right for Tarantino to use the song in the film as he found the script too violent.
9) In the mid-sixties Diamond was working on a song he called “Money Money.” The head of his record label, Bert Berns, and songwriter Jeff Barry convinced him to change the title to something more teen-friendly. The result became Diamond’s first top ten single as a performer, “Cherry, Cherry.”
10) It took Diamond four months to write “I Am…I Said,” my favorite song about hearing-impaired furniture.

Today Diamond turns 74. Here is your Diamond Day soundtrack.

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It’s Halloween And I Need To Dance!

On the night of December 31, 1977, Grace Jones rang in the new year with a performance at New York City’s Studio 54. She invited Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the band Chic, whose hits such as “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” were often played at the club, to catch her show. The guys went to the stage door, where the doorman told them to “Fuck off!” They went to the front entrance and told the doorman there they were personal guests of Jones. The doorman told them they weren’t on the list and refused them admission. Though all dressed up, they went back to the apartment where Nile was then staying. Several bottles of champagne and a little cocaine later, the two musicians started jamming on a song they improvised, inspired by the first doorman. “Awww, fuck off – fuck Studio 54 – fuck off.”

Bernard was impressed with the riff they created, though both knew they wouldn’t get radio airplay for a song that went “fuck off.” (How times have changed!) They changed “fuck” to “freak,” though “freak off” sounded lame. Then Bernard suggested changing “off” to “out.” Nile responded “Like…when you’re out on the dance floor losing it, you know you’re freaking out,” to which Bernard replied “Yeah, plus they have that new dance called ‘the Freak.’”

“Le Freak” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1978. In December it hit #1, though it got knocked from the top a week later by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond’s “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” One week later “Le Freak” went back to #1, but one week after that it got knocked out by Bee Gees’ “Too Much Heaven.” Two weeks later “Le Freak” returned to #1, staying on top for four more weeks. It went on to sell approximately twelve million units worldwide, becoming the best-selling record ever for Atlantic Records.

In 1979 “Le Freak” was included on a compilation album entitled A Night at Studio 54.

Winston + Chic 2014-09-19 13.37
All sorts of freaks and monsters will be out today/tonight for Halloween. This week’s dance party is inspired by the holiday.

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It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

As a songwriter, Jimmy Webb scored his first hit in 1967 at age twenty when The 5th Dimension took “Up, Up and Away” to the top ten. Later that year Glen Campbell had a hit with Webb’s composition “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

Webb then wrote a 22-minute cantata. His friend Bones Howe, with whom Webb worked on The 5th Dimension’s Up, Up and Away album, invited Webb to play the new piece for The Association, who Howe was then producing. Their reaction was less than enthusiastic. Per Howe, one group member said “Any two guys in this group could write a better piece of music than that.”

Sometime after, Webb received a telegram from actor Richard Harris, who he met at a fundraiser in Los Angeles. Harris was nominated for an Academy Award in 1963 for This Sporting Life and again in 1990 for The Field. He later went on to play Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies. The telegram read “Jimmy Webb, come to London and make a record. Love, Richard.”

Webb flew to London, bringing a satchel of songs he’d written. He played each for Harris, but nothing struck the actor. Webb recalled “I looked down with some dread because there was only one thing left.” That one thing was the last movement of the cantata he presented to The Association. He called it “MacArthur Park.”

Here are the lyrics to “MacArthur Park.” Raise your hand when they get confusing.

The opening lines are “Spring was never waiting for us, girl / it ran one step ahead, as we followed in the dance.”

I see some hands raised. The next line should help you understand: “Between the parted pages and were pressed in love’s hot fevered iron, like a striped pair of pants.” Now you got it! Harris, who is from the UK, where “pants” means underwear, uses an iron, a hot fevered iron, on his striped underwear. You may be asking: Does he iron his solid-colored underwear? Does he have solid-colored underwear? Boxers or briefs? Relax – there are still six and a half minutes left in the song, so maybe you’ll find out.

Moving on, we learn that MacArthur Park, which Harris calls MacArthur’s Park for the duration of the song, is melting. In the dark. Its icing is flowing down. Who hasn’t been there?

We now arrive at the classic lines about a cake left out in the rain, which appears to be causing Harris to have a breakdown. “I don’t think that I can take it ‘cause it took so long to bake it and I’ll never have that recipe again. Oh no!” Calm down. It’s just a cake. Bake another one. I know – this song was recorded in the pre-Internet age when finding a cake recipe required one to open a cook book, but come on! This cake can’t be that special if you chose to leave it out during inclement weather.

By the end of verse one we have learned several things: 1) Harris is singing to a girl; 2) Harris irons his striped underwear; 3) a park is melting; 4) if you bake a cake and wish to leave it outside, check The Weather Channel first; and 5) never write a song while you are on an acid trip.

As the song continues it gets more bizarre. The melody changes and Harris threatens us by singing “There will be another song for me, for I will sing it.” Luckily, this other song never became a hit. (And may I add, he is being rather presumptuous by calling his performance on this record “singing.”)

The song clocks in at nearly seven and a half minutes, and though it reached #2 on the US pop charts, most listeners had no idea why Harris was singing about a melting park, ironed underwear and a waterlogged dessert.

Songwriter Webb didn’t understand the confusion. He told Q Magazine that the song is “clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that.” Clearly. Clear as mudcake.

The love affair was one from Webb’s own life. He and his girlfriend would meet for lunch at MacArthur Park, where there would sometimes be birthday parties, with cake. Their breakup devastated Webb, who wrote “Mac Arthur Park” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” based on their relationship. (Bonus trivia – the woman went on to marry Linda Ronstadt’s cousin.)

In 1993, humorist Dave Barry surveyed his readers to find the worst song. The clear winner for Worst Overall Song and Worst Lyrics was “Mac Arthur Park.” Culture critic Joe Queenan disagreed with the results “because ‘Ebony and Ivory’ exists, as do ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,’ ‘Baby, I’m-a Want You,’ ‘Feelings,’ ‘Benny and the Jets,’ ‘Witchy Woman’ and ‘Sussudio,’” adding “On a planet where somebody thought it would be a good idea to write ‘Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,’ the best ‘MacArthur Park’ is ever going to earn in the sucky-song sweepstakes is a tie.”

Good or bad, the song is a classic. A 1968 Grammy winner for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist, the song has been recorded by top artists in diverse genres, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, the Four Tops, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. Waylon Jennings’ 1969 version won a Grammy. In 1978, Donna Summer’s rendition became her first #1 pop record and stands as the only US #1 pop song for Jimmy Webb, who also wrote “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” “Worst That Could Happen” and “All I Know.”

It has been rumored that Webb and Harris had a falling out due to the song’s success. Harris promised Webb his Rolls Royce if the song went top ten. When the record did, Harris offered Webb a different Rolls Royce. It is because of this that people named Richard are often called Dick. Allegedly, the pair stopped speaking.

Ringo + Harris 2014-08-15 12.17
Today Jimmy Webb turns 68 years old. Hopefully he’s somewhere celebrating with a nice piece of wet cake. We kick off our weekly dance party with Donna Summer’s version of “MacArthur Park,” which she, like Harris, insists on calling “MacArthur’s Park” for the duration of the song.

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An Atheist Jew’s Guide To Christmas Music, Part 1

Raised Jewish, I celebrated Hanukkah. For several years, my family also celebrated Christmas. We didn’t go to midnight mass, we didn’t drink egg nog, we didn’t throw a special type of log in the fireplace. (By the way, I have no idea what makes a Yule log yuley). We put tinsel and candy canes on a large potted plant my mother had in the den and bought each other small but practical gifts. For example, when I was 11 for Christmas my parents got me a salt shaker. The Christmas celebrations stopped after I innocently told Grandpa Mordechai about them. My parents were so angry with me they took away my salt shaker.

Though I no longer celebrate Christmas, I still have a major jones for Christmas music. I own many more Christmas records than any atheist Jew probably should. We’re talking in the hundreds.

I eschew Christmas classics performed by well-known middle-of-the-road acts such as Celine Dion, Michael Bublé, Kenny G (sell-out Jew), Neil Diamond (sell-out Jew) or Barbra Streisand (sell-out Jew). Frank Sinatra shows up only in a duet with Cyndi Lauper and Bing Crosby shows up only in his duet with David Bowie.

Including the Crosby/Bowie version, I have 15 renditions of “The Little Drummer Boy” in my iPod, by a diverse list of artists including Johnny Cash, The Temptations, Joan Jett, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and RuPaul.

I have ten versions of “Winter Wonderland,” and that’s not counting the cross-dressing parody “Walkin’ Round in Women’s Underwear,” not performed by RuPaul.

I have “Christmas in Hollis,” “Christmas in Harlem,” “Christmas in Washington,” “Christmastime in the LBC,” “Christmas in the City,” “Christmas in Heaven,” “Christmastime in Hell” and “Christmas at the Zoo.”

I have Christmas songs by most of my favorite artists of all-time, including The Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, R.E.M., Elvis Presley, The White Stripes, Kanye West, Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Radiohead.

Some Christmas songs aren’t Christmas songs at all. “Frosty the Snowman,” “Let It Snow Let it Snow Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland” don’t mention the baby Jesus or Santa Claus or presents or a bullied reindeer with a skin ailment.

Some of the Christmas songs I have are a bit odd. “I Found the Brains of Santa Claus,” a smooth jazz version of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” C3PO and R2D2 singing “Sleigh Ride.” I have Liberace reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” though his version doesn’t hold a candle to Aretha Franklin’s version, in which the Queen of Soul took a few liberties with the words: “A bundle of gifts he had and what did I get? / As I squealed, opening the package, the same old shit!” Her lyrics are downright Disneyesque compared to Snoop Dogg’s reading of the famous poem. If you’re interested, Google the lyrics because I’m not going to print them here.

I have John Denver singing “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas).” Verse one opens with a couplet for the arithmetically-challenged: “Just last year when I was only seven / Now I’m almost eight you can see.” Santa needs to bring John some flashcards. The next two lines create a holiday image that is less Norman Rockwell and more John Waters: “You came home at quarter past eleven / And fell down underneath the Christmas tree.” Someone needs to get him to a 12-step group. He can attend a meeting with the title character of Fishbone’s “Slick Nick, You Devil You,” who came down the chimney with a keg of brew and spilled Jack Daniels all over the drapes.

I have Sarah Silverman singing “Give the Jew Girl Toys,” in which she taunts Santa by singing “You have a list / Well, Schindler did to / Liam Neeson played him / Tim Allen played you.”

Then there’s the classic “Fairtytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, which evokes the holiday spirit with the line “You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot,” something yelled at me every year by those Salvation Army Santas.

Better still is “Macarena Christmas.” I LOVE “Macarena” and I’m betting you do to though you probably won’t admit it. “Macarena Christmas” celebrates the birth of our lord and savior Baby Macarena by taking the chorus from the hit single and uncleverly inserting it repeatedly into a medley of Christmas songs, so it goes “Joy to the world, the Lord has come / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena, Que tu cuerpo es pa darle alegria y cosa Buena / Da le a tu cuerpo alegria Macarena / Eeeeeh, Macarena – ay / Jingle bells jingle bells jingle all the way.” Sound effects of what sounds like an infant with the hiccups are thrown in. It makes no sense, y me gusta mucho.

My favorite holiday album and one of the greatest all-time albums period is Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You, featuring tracks he produced for The Ronettes, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans. Every cut on it is classic and can be enjoyed by the whole family, except Grandpa Mordechai.

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