Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

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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It’s Danger Mouse’s Birthday And I Need To Dance!

About Bill Cosby, rapper A$AP Rocky recently said, “He did so much positive things leading up to one thing, which he was convicted of being innocent for, by the way.” First off, it’s so many positive things, not so much. Secondly, it’s for which he was convicted of being innocent. Thirdly, one gets convicted of being innocent? No wonder our nation’s jails are overcrowded. Go on, $AP. “All you remember is the 56 woman and all that kind of shit.” Yes, all that kind of serial rapist shit. Nobody remembers he introduced the world to Fat Albert and Raven Symone. Just rape rape rape and more rape. Oh, sorry. I interrupted this genius again. Back to you A$$. “I’m not his lawyer, but I do know he’s innocent.” And even if he is guilty, “All we know is that he was accused, he allegedly raped however many woman he raped, which, you got, it’s so much issues in the world, you know I’m saying?” I know what you’re saying! There are so many issues in the world, so why spend any time on one of the issues in the world, that being the issue of crime?

I expected better from the guy who rapped “I be fuckin’ broads like I be fuckin’ bored / Turn a dyke bitch out have her fuckin’ boys, beast” and “I swear that bitch Rita Ora got a big mouth/ Next time I see her might curse the bitch out/ Kicked the bitch out once cause she bitched out/ Spit my kids out, jizzed up all in her mouth and made the bitch bounce.” It turns out he’s not as intelligent, articulate and thoughtful as those lyrics make him out to be.

The only time I ever bought the “clean” version over the “explicit” version of a song is when I got A$AP Rocky’s “F**kin’ Problems,” from which the dyke bitch lyric is taken. The beat is great, but the lyrics are so over-the-top misogynist, and that’s saying a lot for a genre in which far too many lyrics are extremely misogynist.

Rocky is a talented guy, albeit one with a vile attitude toward women. Usually I can separate the person from the art. I love the movie Chinatown, even though its director, Roman Polanski, pled guilty to statutory rape. I love the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” even though the producer of those records, Phil Spector, is presently serving time for second degree murder. I love Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” even though he’s Robin Thicke. I don’t know what I’ll do if Chris Brown ever releases a halfway decent song. Good things the odds of that ever happening are mighty slim.

I’m not defending these artists. Being a monster and being talented are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes I can listen to or watch the art and not think about the crimes allegedly committed. Is that wrong? If it is, that’s my f**kin’ problem.

CeeLo Green gave us the great “Fuck You” in 2010. In 2012, Green was accused by a woman of drugging and sexually assaulting her. CeeLo’s attorney said the sex was consensual, with the singer tweeting “If someone is passed out they’re not even WITH you consciously, so WITH Implies consent. People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!” Fuck you.

I still listen to Green’s “Fuck You,” but I don’t set out to listen to his newer music. In part it’s because of his attitude. Even if he didn’t drug and or rape this woman, I read his tweets about rape and think “Does that make him crazy? Probably.” To be honest, I also don’t listen to his newer music because it sucks. Everything the man has done since “Fuck You” is pretty bad. Did you hear his song “Robin Williams” from last year? It’s shit. I’m not saying I’m glad he died, but the actor is lucky he never had to hear it.

So I’ll listen to “Fuck You” and I’ll listen to “Crazy,” the worldwide smash he had as one-half of Gnarls Barkley. The other half of the duo, Brian Burton, professionally known as Danger Mouse,” celebrates his 39th birthday today. Tunes du Jour kicks off its weekly dance party with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Will I be celebrating when CeeLo’s birthday comes around? Maybe by singing “Fuck You.”


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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 – 1975

It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
You gotta get out while you’re young

New Jersey does not have an official state song. There have been attempts to adopt one since at least 1939, when the state’s Board of Education held a contest to find a suitable number. They named Samuel F. Monroe’s “The New Jersey Loyalty Song” as the contest’s winner, but it was not good enough to be the official state song.

In 1972, the state legislature proposed that Joseph “Red” Mascara’s “I’m from New Jersey” be the state’s song, but Governor William Cahill vetoed the measure, stating succinctly about the song “It stinks.”

In March of 1980, radio d.j. Carol Miller started a petition to have “Born to Run,” written and recorded by New Jersey’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen, be named the state song. Three state assemblypersons drafted a resolution declaring “Born to Run” “as the unofficial *rock* theme of our State’s youth.” I’m confused to as to how an official resolution can name an “unofficial” theme, just as the state’s senate was confused as to how a song that includes the lyrics that open this post expresses pride in where one’s from. The bid died.
The song also includes these lyrics that tickle my friend Audrey so: Someday, girl, I don’t know when, we’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go.

Oh, that place!

By the way, I got out of New Jersey when I was 24.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights some of the best tunes from 1975, kicking off with what is unofficially New Jersey’s unofficial state song, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”


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Throwback Thursday – 1963

The girl group sound was hugely popular on the US pop charts in the early 1960s. The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Chiffons, The Angels, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, The Exciters, The Orlons, The Cookies, The Murmaids, The Dixie Cups, The Supremes, The Toys, The Shangri-Las, The Jaynetts and others filled the radio with tales of teenage romance, heartbreak and occasionally social commentary. Solo acts such as Lesley Gore and Darlene Love also exemplified the girl group sound.

Described in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as “the quintessence of the ‘girl group’ aesthetic of the early 1960s,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” reached #2 in 1963. The record was produced by Phil Spector, who produced at least 15 top forty girl group songs between 1962 and 1964.

Lead vocals on “Be My Baby” were performed by Ronnie Spector. In fact, the other Ronettes aren’t even on the record. Backup singers included the girlfriend of Phil Spector’s promotion man. That man was Sonny Bono; his girlfriend was Cher. Sonny & Cher would have their first hit as a duo two years later.

This week’s Throwback Thursday playlist spotlights the hits of 1963. Here are twenty of that year’s best, kicking off with the record New Music Express named the second best song of the 1960s (their #1 was The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”), the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”


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The Gladys Knight-Farrah Fawcett Connection

Our story begins in 1970 with a phone call placed by singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly to his friend, actor Lee Majors. Pre-The Six Million Dollar Man Majors was dating pre-Charlie’s Angels actress Farrah Fawcett. Fawcett answered the phone and while chatting with Weatherly, mentioned she was leaving that night to visit her parents in Texas. She told him she was taking the midnight plane to Houston.

That phrase stuck with Weatherly, who immediately upon hanging up the phone, turned it into a song. He recorded “Midnight Plane to Houston” for his 1972 album, Weatherly. Among the album’s other tracks was another song he wrote, entitled “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye).”

It was the latter song that first made its way to Gladys Knight & the Pips. Their recording of it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was their biggest-selling single for Motown. It also turned out to be their last single released on Motown while still signed to the label.

The group had been with Motown since 1966. While “Neither One of Us” was on the charts, negotiations for a better deal with the label fell through, and the group was quickly scooped up by Buddah Records. As songwriter Jim Weatherly just provided them with a huge hit, they looked for more Weatherly compositions to record for their debut album for Buddah. You may see where this is going, but let’s backtrack for a moment.

“Midnight Plane to Houston” found its way to Cissy Houston, r&b/gospel singer and mother to Whitney Houston. Cissy liked the song, but asked Weatherly if she can make some changes. Specifically, her family was from Georgia, so she asked if she could switch Houston to Georgia. Also, her family didn’t fly; they rode trains. Weatherly had no objection to the requested changes, so in 1972, Cissy Houston recorded “Midnite Train to Georgia.”

It was this revised version that made its way to Gladys Knight & the Pips, who also hail from Georgia. The lyrics resonated with Knight. Like the partner about whom the song’s protagonist sings, Knight’s husband at that time was a musician. Perhaps he kept dreaming that someday he’d be a star, a superstar, but he didn’t get far. Unlike the song’s protagonist, Knight didn’t choose to live in his world than live without him in hers. The couple divorced in 1973, the same year that Gladys Knight & the Pips scored their first #1 pop single with “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which knocked the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” from the top slot. “Midnight Train” won the group the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group.

Ringo + Gladys
Twelve years after the group’s first top ten pop hit, 1961’s “Every Beat of My Heart,” Gladys Knight & the Pips went on hit-making roll, following up “Midnight” with three consecutive top ten hits: “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination,” “On and On,” and another Weatherly composition, “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.”

Today Gladys Knight turns 72 years old. Tunes du Jour celebrates the occasion with twenty of her group’s finest.


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Throwback Thursday – 1985

Ringo + Madonna

In 1984, Madonna peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 with her first charting single, “Holiday.” By the following year, she had established herself as the Queen of the Pop Charts. She followed “Holiday” with three singles that hit the top ten in 1984: “Borderline,” “Lucky Star” and “Like a Virgin,” the latter hitting #1 and remaining there for six weeks. She opened 1985 with the #2 hit “Material Girl,” followed closely by the #1 “Crazy for You.” “Crazy” is from the film Vision Quest, in which Madonna had a small part as a nightclub singer.

Madonna had a much larger role in the film Desperately Seeking Susan. Released in April 1985, the smash film featured a new track from Madonna, “Into the Groove.” As one might expect when a new superstar has a new song, and a great song at that, the track received lots of radio airplay. “Groove” hit #1 on the Dance Club chart, and the only record on which it appeared, a 12-inch single where it was the b-side of “Angel,” went gold, selling over a million units in the US.

Though it was a big seller with a ton of airplay and club play, “Into the Groove” never hit Billboard’s Hot 100. Though that chart is supposed to accurately reflect a song’s popularity in the US, Billboard imposes rules that hang around longer than they should, throwing off historians looking into a song’s popularity. One of the arcane rules in 1985 was that a song had to be available on a commercial 7-inch vinyl single to be eligible to chart. Commercial availability solely on a 12-inch vinyl single, even one that sold over a million copies, is not enough. Widespread radio play on a variety of formats (the song hit the top twenty on the r&b chart, which for reasons that made sense to Billboard’s chart editors, allowed 12-inch singles to chart) is not enough.

Eventually, Billboard got around to revising these rules. The advent of cassingles (cassette tape singles) and CD singles expanded the formats eligible. The music industry’s decision to hold back the release of singles in any format to force consumers to shell out big bucks for a full-length album to get the one song they liked forced Billboard to make radio airplay without a commercial single good enough for a Hot 100 chart placement, but that change didn’t come into being until December of 1998, thirteen years too late for Madonna and historians.

This week’s Throwback Thursday kicks off with one of the best-known songs to have never charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, Madonna’s “Into the Groove.” It is followed by other music highlights of 1985.


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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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It’s Earth Day And I Need To Dance!

“I remember writing ‘Earth Song’ when I was in Austria, in a hotel. And I was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the Planet Earth. And for me, this is Earth’s Song, because I think nature is trying so hard to compensate for man’s mismanagement of the Earth. And with the ecological unbalance going on, and a lot of the problems in the environment, I think earth feels the pain, and she has wounds, and it’s about some of the joys of the planet as well. But this is my chance to pretty much let people hear the voice of the planet. And this is ‘Earth Song.’ And that’s what inspired it. And it just suddenly dropped into my lap when I was on tour in Austria.”
– Michael Jackson

Ringo + MJ
Today is Earth Day. Our weekly dance party kicks off with Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song,” which spent six weeks at #1 in the UK beginning in December 1995, but didn’t chart on the US Hot 100.


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Luther Vandross Was Here

In 1974, David Bowie hired Luther Vandross to sing background vocals and do vocal arrangements for his Young Americans album. Bowie told the then 23-year-old singer “You’re going to make it…next year is your year!”

Bowie’s timing was a little off (depending on how you define “making it”). Luther cracked the top 40 as a solo artist for the first time with “Never Too Much” in 1981. Before then, he was a much in-demand session vocalist and arranger.

Tunes du Jour celebrates the birthday of Luther Vandross with twenty tracks on which the soul great is the lead singer, a backup singer, the arranger, the producer, the songwriter, or some combination thereof.


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