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The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

Today is the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States of America. You’re officially allowed to start listening to holiday music now. To get you started, I compiled a playlist of what I consider to be 100 of the best Christmas songs. Okay, 98 songs, a stand-up routine and a skit. It’s a mix of standards, versions of standards with which you may not be familiar, and obscure but delightful tunes.

Enjoy!

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Throwback Thursday – 1980

Winston + Blondie
In 1979, Giorgio Moroder, famous mostly for his production work on Donna Summer records, composed the score for the film American Gigolo. He asked Stevie Nicks to sing the movie’s theme song, for which Moroder wrote the music, but she had to decline for contractual reasons. He next turned to Deborah Harry of Blondie.

Harry write the lyrics to the song that became “Call Me,” the second #1 single for her band. Of her experience with Moroder, she told Billboard “He’s very nice to work with, very easy, (but) I don’t think he has a lot of patience with people who fool around or don’t take what they do seriously. I think he’s very serious about what he does and he’s intense and he’s a perfectionist and he’s very talented, so I think that people who are less talented or less concentrated bore him quickly…you really have to pay attention.”

Said Moroder of working with Blondie, “There were always fights. I was supposed to do an album with them after that. We went to the studio, and the guitarist was fighting with the keyboard player. I called their manager and quit.”

Moroder did end up working with Deborah Harry again years later on another soundtrack song, producing “Rush Rush” from Scarface, and in 2004 remixed Blondie’s single “Good Boys.”

Tunes du Jour’s Throwback Thursday playlist this week spotlights the best of 1980, kicking off with Blondie’s “Call Me.”


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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 – 1987

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist is comprised of hits from 1987, a pretty nondescript year for pop music. The new wave music that dented the US charts earlier in the decade faded in popularity, while rap and alternative had yet to cross over in a major way. What we had was some good mainstream rock and pop. Here are twenty of that year’s biggest:


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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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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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A Soulful Christmas Playlist

TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the first woman to hit the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 with a song she wrote herself?

ANSWER: Carla Thomas. She was 16 years old when she wrote “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes),” which hit #10 in 1961. Today she turns 72.

In 1963, Thomas incorporated the title of her first hit into a seasonal offering, “Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas.”

“Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas” inspires today’s playlist – fifty great soul and r&b Christmas jams, with some fun extra treats thrown in.

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A Change Is Gonna Come If You Make It So

A company I worked for – I won’t say which one – has an amazing catalogue of rhythm & blues music, arguably the best r&b catalogue of any record label. Despite possessing this goldmine, most of our catalogue releases were from white rock bands. I asked a member of senior management why we didn’t do more with our black artists, and the answer I got was “We don’t know how to sell that music.”

Is that not a stupid response? If you don’t know how to do that, hire someone who has that expertise, or learn how to do it. Why ignore a large swath of your potential market, especially when you already own the assets?

Years ago I was put in charge of licensing at a record label. I knew the music and I knew the components of licensing deals; however, I wasn’t a very good negotiator. I found the process intimidating. I could have left it at that – “I don’t know how to negotiate.” My company would have made money nonetheless, though not at its full potential. For that matter, I wouldn’t be working at full potential.

I took a course in negotiations. Six weeks, $300. Money well spent. I put what I learned in the class into action. Practice makes perfect, and I became an excellent negotiator. In my four years at that company our licensing revenue increased 400%. My skills also led to my next job as the Vice President of Licensing at another company.

Is a lack of some skill or knowledge holding you back? Fix that. Read a book, attend a seminar, take an on-line course or find a mentor. Saying “I don’t know how” won’t lead to success; learning how will.

Winston + Chuck 2014-06-30 11.25
Today is the last day of Black Music Month. It would be ludicrous to think a 40-song playlist would cover black music in any comprehensive way. Enjoy it for what it is – nearly three hours of fantastic music. Listen to it while you research how to learn a new skill.

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Feliz Cinco De Mayo!

Ringo + Toni 002
Hoy es Cinco de Mayo, y yo was thinking about Spanish-language songs that crossed over onto the US pop charts. That got me thinking about hit songs that were re-recorded in Spanish by their original hitmakers in an attempt to cross over the other direction. It’s a savvy business move, no? Why limit your audience, especially once the music business became more global?

Here is your Cinco de Mayo playlist:

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Just Say Yes, And…

speech
Last week I gave a speech about improvisation and how the elements of this art form can be applied to other parts of your life, leading to better health, greater wealth, and stronger relationships.

Among the things I discussed is improv’s most fundamental concept, that of “Yes, and” – accepting your scene partner’s idea and building upon it – and how this idea can be applied to one’s work life.

There is an improv game called Conducted Story. We get a title from the audience; then the conductor points to someone who starts the story, then someone who continues, etc. You want to progress the story and have it make sense. Yes, and.

As the head of the licensing department at Rhino Entertainment, I often did conducted stories in staff meetings. Not literally, but as music sales slipped, we looked for new ways to increase revenue. “We could license to other media besides CDs” “such as greetings cards” “which Hallmark would sell and pay us a royalty” “and we can suggest licensable songs for each holiday” “and expand that into other things sold at Hallmark shops, such as gift boxes and Christmas tree ornaments.” Despite CD sales plummeting during the second half of the last decade, my licensing department’s revenue rose each year.

For those of us who have struggled with shyness, performing improv, even in a classroom setting, increases self-confidence. It worked for me. I used to be shy. Incredibly shy. Painfully shy. Music was my best friend. While other kids were doing Little League, I’d be home listening to my Four Seasons records. I went to therapist after therapist, but they didn’t help me get over my shyness.

Once people got to know me they would tell me “You know you’re very funny.” That gave me an idea. I’ll overcome my shyness by becoming a stand-up comedian. I’ll stand in front of strangers and express my thoughts and feelings, and they’ll have to listen, as I have a mic and a spotlight.

For me, the stand-up helped. I wrote out my sets and memorized them, word for word. I got laughs and more gigs, but was still shyer than I wished. A fellow comedian suggested I take an improv class.

Studying improv gave me the courage to get on stage with topic bullet points memorized, but not each word. It freed me and took my stand-up to another level. An agent liked my set and represented me. I got more bookings and made a little money.

Mind you, my goal was not to become a famous stand-up comic. It was to gain self-confidence. Within five years of starting improv, I went from this shy music geek making a meager salary to a Vice President at a major record company, Warner Music Group, where I made a six-figure salary and negotiated complex deals with artists and attorneys.

Over the course of my music biz career I’ve met many of my favorite all-time artists, including Prince, Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz of Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads, Art Garfunkel, Jack White, Kate Bush, Smokey Robinson, Tina Turner, Donna Summer, Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, Joan Jett, Frankie Valli and Chaka Khan.

Valli autograph 002
Today’s playlist is in honor of one of those, Frankie Valli, who celebrates his 80th birthday today.

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