Michael Jackson was born sixty years ago today. Tunes du Jour celebrates the birthday of one of the greatest artists of our lifetime with sixty of his finest.
Tag Archives: Rockwell
Madonna debuted “Like a Virgin” with a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards in September 1984, weeks before the record was released. Watching her on television rolling around the floor in a wedding dress with a Boy Toy belt buckle, the song’s writers, Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, thought “We’re doomed now. This is an embarrassment. This is never going to succeed.”
“Like a Virgin” spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, her first single to top that chart.
Kelly and Steinberg didn’t meet Madonna until around five years later. At a party they saw her, and asked Steve Bray, who wrote Madonna’s hit “Into the Groove,” to introduce them.
Bray did so. “Madonna, I want you to meet Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. They wrote ‘Like a Virgin.’”
Steinberg said “Oh Madonna, I’ve wanted to meet you for so long.”
Madonna replied “Well, now you did,” and walked away.
“Like a Virgin” kicks off this week’s Throwback Thursday playlist, spotlighting the hits of 1984.
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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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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.