Throwback Thursday: 1962

A popular misconception that I sometimes fall into is that the years after The Day The Music Died (early 1959) and before The Beatles hit in America (early 1964) the pop chart was pretty dull. Sure, there was a lot of schmaltz on the Hot 100 – there always is – but there was a lot of exciting stuff, too, as today’s Throwback Thursday playlist will attest. Girl groups, Motown, Ray Charles, James Brown, Frankie Valli, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys and lots of other good stuff made the top 40. Have a listen to thirty of 1962’s best.

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A Chaka Khan Playlist

Chaka Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens on this date in 1953. At age 13 Yvette was given the name Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi Khan by an African priest. Though there was no Chaka Khan character in the movie Judas and the Black Messiah, she did befriend Fred Hampton in 1967 and joined the Black Panthers. She left the group two years later. Below are thirty things she’s done since then.

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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (2-20-20)

Inspired by the February 20 birthdays of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Rihanna, Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, J.Geils, Spirit’s Randy California, Stone Roses’ Ian Brown, Seal, Backstreet Boys’ Brian Littrell, and Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull.

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Your (Almost) Daily Playlist (2-18-20)

I’m experimenting here at Tunes du Jour. Yesterday I started including multiple songs by the birthday performers who inspired that day’s playlist. As of today I’m not limiting myself to twenty songs. My thinking is that by removing that restriction I can posts playlists (almost) dailier and you get a deeper dive into some of the artists. I’m living on the edge!

Today’s playlist is inspired by the February 18 birthdays of Regina Spektor, Yoko Ono, Styx’s Dennis DeYoung, John Travolta, Randy Crawford, Juelz Santana, Irma Thomas, Juice Newton, and Space’s Tommy Scott.

Not In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame: Chaka Khan

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have Bon Jovi as a member.”
– Groucho Marx

On April 14, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will induct several worthwhile acts and Bon Jovi. Over the coming weeks, Tunes du Jour will spotlight artists that are eligible for induction (i.e. they commercially released their debut recording at least 25 years ago), but have not been inducted as they are not as talented, innovative or influential as Bon Jovi.

Today we look at and listen to Chaka Khan. Though on the short list of artists being considered for induction this year, she was passed over by the nominating committee, the same committee that approved for inclusion Bon Jovi.

A listen to the Khan’s catalogue, a sample of which is presented below, reveals an extraordinary singer who masters rhythm and blues, funk, dance, soul, jazz, uptempo tracks and slow burners. Elsewhere in her catalogue one finds her taking on gospel, Broadway tunes and the great American songbook, excelling at everything she to which she lend her voice. Jon Bon Jovi has mastered all of these genres as well, except for rhythm and blues, funk, dance, soul, jazz, gospel, Broadway tunes and the great American songbook.

Chaka Khan is a trailblazer. She was the first r&b artist to have a hit song that featured a rapper (her 1984 cover of Prince’s “I Feel for You,” performed with Melle Mel), a blend which became increasingly popular and is prevalent on today’s pop charts. Still, she never sang “With an iron-clad fist I wake up to French kiss the morning.” Do you know who did? Bon Jovi.

Here are twenty of Chaka Khan’s finest tunes.


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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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Try A Little Kindness: The Ashford & Simpson Songbook

Try a little kindness and you’ll see it’s something that comes very naturally

I have a neighbor down the hall who has never said hello to me. He has never acknowledged my existence. We’ve been neighbors for twelve years. Until recently, that rankled me. Is it so difficult to say hello? To smile? To half-smile?

There is a couple who live on the floor beneath mine. A couple of years ago, after our morning walk, I got on the elevator with my dogs. One of the guys got on as well and said, unsolicited, “I hate your dogs.” That’s a terrible thing to say under any circumstances, but you should know, my dogs don’t bark. They don’t jump up on people they don’t know. They were standing in the corner of the elevator next to me when this man shared his opinion, an opinion that could not have any positive effect on the environment. Recently that same guy and his partner were on the elevator. The vocal dog hater saw me approaching (sans pets) and held the door open for me. I said thank you. When they exited on their floor, the partner of the vocal dog hater admonished the vocal dog hater. “See what happens when you hold the door for people!” They get on the elevator? They say “Thank you?” I’m not sure what his beef was, but again, what positive effect does such an attitude encourage? If those are your thoughts, why share them?

It still bothers me a little to encounter such uninvited nastiness, but I’ve come to realize it’s not me. It’s them. I’m nice. I say thank you. I adopted two rescue dogs, one of which was abandoned by his previous owners, and nurtured them. That someone can’t appreciate who I am, that someone can’t appreciate what I do, that someone can’t bring themselves to be courteous or half-smile is a sign of their damaged psyche.

Once I fully realized this I decided to make a concerted effort to display more acts of kindness. I say hello to people I pass on the sidewalk, which, as a native New Yorker, took some getting used to. I smile at store clerks, not just the ones I want to date. I “like” more posts on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The more kindness we put out into the world, the kinder the world will be.

The lyric at the top of this post comes from Diana Ross’s first post-Supremes solo hit, 1970’s “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).” The song was written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the married couple who wrote so many great songs for Miss Ross, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, and others, including themselves.

Today Valerie Simson turns 69 years old. Our playlist consists of twenty of Ashford & Simpson’s finest.


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