In 1974 Grandpa Abe gave ten-year-old me a radio. Very quickly that radio became shy me’s best friend. I hadn’t paid much attention to music previously, only hearing what played in the family care when we went out to eat or to Sunday school or the orthodontist. With my best friend Radio by my side I was exposed to so much more. Mostly I listened to the top 40 station WABC. By the autumn of 1974 I was making weekly treks on my bicycle to Melody Manor to buy whatever single entered the top 40 that week, unless it was something truly heinous like “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s a habit I kept up until the mid to late eighties, when “Lady in Red,” “The Final Countdown,” “Hip To Be Square” and Milli Vanilli convinced me to eschew that habit and only buy records that were tolerable. Today’s playlist celebrates the music of the year I started collecting records.
Celebrating Sir Paul McCartney’s career in 30 songs is an impossible task. (I initially wrote that it’s a fool’s errand, but that was the first time I typed that expression and it felt weird.) Anyhoosle, this playlist isn’t perfect, though the songs on it are quite spectacular. I do have issues with the opening of “I Saw her Standing There,” however. Putting aside that she was just 17, the “you know what I mean” line that proceeds that rubs me the wrong way. After that, it’s smooth sailing.
My favorite artist to emerge in the 2000s is Kanye West. Not only has he released so many great tracks, he also tries new things with each release, not content to repeat himself or rest on his laurels. Unfortunately, his public shenanigans – some non-music-related, some gimmicky promotional stunts – have distracted from his talent, especially these last few years. This playlist will remind you of his merits. Big fan that I am, I hadn’t heard some of these songs in a while. It was nice to hear them again.
I recently read a book about the music of 1971. It was pretty bad. I should have been clued off seeing that the book derived its title from the name of a Rod Stewart album that came out in…1972. The author and I agree that 1971 was a great year for music, though he focused mainly on white acts. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, recently named the number one album of all-time in Rolling Stone, was dismissed as being overrated due to white guilt, something the author clearly doesn’t feel. I humbly suggest that the playlist below shows more of the greatness (and diversity) of 1971’s music than this book.
Nineteen eighty wasn’t a game changing year on the US pop chart. It wasn’t 1964. It wasn’t 1991. For the most part it was music business as usual. The death of disco was greatly exaggerated. Just ask any member of Lipps, Inc., should you have any idea what any member of Lipps, Inc. looks like. Seventies hit makers stayed on the charts. Paul McCartney. Diana Ross. Stevie Wonder. Barbra Streisand. The Captain & Tennille did it to us one more time, it meaning having a hit single. A few outsiders snuck into the top 40 with sounds unlike the rest – Devo hit with “Whip It,” Gary Numan with “Cars,” and The Vapors with “Turning Japanese.” In the coming years more such weirdos would make their presence known.
While many of 1980’s hits were great singles, many classics were born outside of the mainstream. Releases such as Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Redemption Song,” Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes,” and Funky 4 + 1’s “That’s the Joint” are often referred to as classics these days. In 1980, not a single one of them troubled the US Hot 100. Change was on its way. In 1980, rap wasn’t a fixture on the top 40, though its influence was heard in Queen’s #1 smash “Another One Bites the Dust.” The next few years saw #1 hits from Peter Gabriel, Prince, David Bowie and a rap song, plus a top ten reggae song.
Today’s Throwback Thursday playlist shines a spotlight on 1980.
A movie director takes words on a page, a script, and brings them to life, guiding actors to deliver the best performances possible and deciding on the best ways to convey the story. A music producer plays the same roles in the creation of a record, taking words on a page, a song, and brings them to life, guiding singers and musicians to deliver the best performances possible and providing input as to how the recorded song should sound.
Sir George Martin, born on January 3, 1926, is recognized as one of the most influential producers in the history of pop music. He is best known for producing all of the albums by The Beatles except for Let It Be. It was Martin who suggested the string quartet on “Yesterday.” It was Martin, with recording engineer Geoff Emerick, who combined two distinct recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” played in different keys and at different tempos, into the one with which you’re familiar. Martin suggested speeding up a ballad Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote, which resulted in the #1 hit “Please Please Me.” His production of “I Feel Fine” includes one of the earliest uses of guitar feedback. Martin conduction the string section on “Eleanor Rigby.” He brought in a 40-piece orchestra for “A Day in the Life.” On “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Martin’s use of tape loops, reversing a recording of a guitar solo in playback, and having Lennon’s vocals go through an organ’s speaker, helped Lennon achieve his desire of a recording to sound like his mind on LSD. He played piano on “In My Life,” and sped up his recording of the piano part to match the song’s tempo. He suggested the group replace original drummer Pete Best.
Sir George, who died in 2016, also produced artists other than The Beatles. Here are thirty of his finest productions.