Two thousand three may not have been a groundbreaking year for popular music, though there were a lot of fun songs that hit that year. Here are 30 highlights.
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Inspired by the March 28 birthdays of Lady Gaga, Salt, EMF’s James Atkin, Oran Juice Jones, Ian Gomm and J-Kwon; and the March 27 birthdays of Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie, Mariah Carey and The Associates’ Billy Mackenzie.
Inspired by the March 15 birthdays of The Beach Boys’ Mike Love, Sly Stone, Terence Trent D’Arby, the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, Buzzcock’s/Magazine’s Howard Devoto, Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, Rockwell, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and Lil Dicky.
“Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. Wogs I mean, I’m looking at you. Where are you? I’m sorry but some fucking wog…Arab grabbed my wife’s bum, you know? Surely got to be said, yeah this is what all the fucking foreigners and wogs over here are like, just disgusting, that’s just the truth, yeah. So where are you? Well wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. You fucking (indecipherable). I don’t want you here, in the room or in my country. Listen to me, man! I think we should vote for Enoch Powell. Enoch’s our man. I think Enoch’s right, I think we should send them all back. Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking (indecipherable) don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he’s a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he’s our man, he’s on our side, he’ll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he’s on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!”
– Eric Clapton, to his audience during an August 1976 concert in Birmingham, UK. (Per Wikipedia, “in British English, wog is an offensive racial slur usually applied to Middle Eastern and South Asian peoples.”)
Clapton’s rant, coupled with the rise of fascist and neo-Nazi rhetoric in England, led to the formation of Rock Against Racism, a UK campaign in which recording artists including The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, Aswad and Generation X performed concerts with an anti-racism theme.
In an interview some years later, Clapton claims his remarks weren’t aimed at any one particular minority. True. They were aimed at “wogs” and “coons” and Arabs and Jamaicans, so several minorities. You dug yourself out of that one! “It was kind of a feeling of loss of identity, being English and losing my Englishness,” said the blues guitarist whose first solo top ten hit was a cover of a reggae song written by Bob Marley.
In his 2007 autobiography, cleverly entitled Clapton: The Autobiography, in a paragraph that begins with the sentence “I had never really understood, or been directly affected by, racial conflict,” Clapton says of the 1976 outburst “Since then I have learned to keep my opinions to myself.” Okay, that’s one lesson. I think there may be more if one looks hard enough.
Today Eric Clapton turns 70 years old. To celebrate, here are twenty songs about the idiocy of racism.
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Today is Bobby Brown’s 46th birthday. A former member of New Edition, Brown had his first solo hit in 1988 with “Don’t Be Cruel,” which reached #8 on the Hot 100. Though it shares its title with an Elvis Presley #1 hit from 1956, Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” is not a remake.
That brings us to today’s playlist, which I call The Song Retains the Name. It consists of different songs with the same title. I initially planned to include twenty such songs, but more kept springing to mind. Before I knew it, I passed 100 entries. There are plenty more, so I decided to open this up to my reader(s). If you have songs that share titles you’d like to add, feel free to do so.
(NOTES: I included The Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel” because when it was released in 1980 its title was “Heartbreak Hotel.” Thought he didn’t have to, Michael Jackson, the song’s writer, later changed its name to “This Place Hotel” to avoid confusion with the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel.” Whitney Houston didn’t feel the need to make the same Hotel accommodation.
Also, though it is listed on Spotify as “The Best of My Love,” the Eagles track does not have a “The” on the 45 or the band’s On the Border album.)
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The earliest known song in recorded history was performed by Eve. Not the rapper-actress whose hits include “Let Me Blow Your Mind” and “Gotta Man,” but a different Eve with no last name, the one who called the Garden of Eden home. Her song was “The Only Girl in the World,” later a hit for Rihanna. The song was written by Barry Manilow, as were “Let Me Blow Your Mind” and “Gotta Man.”
In 1976 the scientific community was rocked when Barry Manilow, in his #1 hit “I Write the Songs,” sang “I’ve been alive forever and I wrote the very first song.” A glance at his album cover photos allays any doubt as to the first part of that claim. “But how did you write that first song?,” the skeptics asked. Manilow replied “I put the words and the melodies together,” which was enough evidence to silence any doubters. He then proclaims “I am music.” He presents his case that he, Barry Manilow, wrote every song that has ever been written. Songs that make the whole world sing. Songs of love and special things. Things like a duck that loves disco and a heart that’s both achy and breaky.
In the song’s bridge Manilow sings how his “music makes you dance,” and really, who doesn’t get down to “Mandy?” He also says he “wrote some rock-and-roll,” referring to his hit “Can’t Smile Without You,” which rocks harder than anything by The Carpenters or Air Supply.
Then we get the one-two punch of “Music fills the heart / Well, that’s a real fine place to start” followed by “It’s from me, it’s for you / It’s from you, it’s for me / It’s a worldwide symphony.” Granted, those aren’t the greatest lyrics, but the man wrote 623,524,325 songs, so cut him some slack!
Now is a good time to mention that Barry Manilow did not write “I Write the Songs.” As a matter of fact, Barry Manilow did not write any of his three number one singles, the other two being “Mandy” and “Looks Like We Made It.” Manilow did write a acne medication jingle, a toilet cleaner jingle, and “Copacabana.”
“I Write the Songs” was written by Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys. He recorded the tune into a cassette and submitted it to a Japanese music festival, who rejected it as being unsuitable.
Undeterred, Johnston played the tune for a couple of friends who worked with The Beach Boys, Daryl “The Captain” Dragon and Toni Tennille. The Captain & Tennille included the song on their 1975 debut album Love Will Keep Us Together.
That same year Johnston produced an album for David Cassidy entitled The Higher They Climb, on which Cassidy took a stab at the song. (I know – Barry Manilow, The Captain & Tennille and David Cassidy! This is a glorious Bad Music I Love trifecta!) Cassidy’s version hit #11 on the UK singles chart in August of ’75.
That summer, Clive Davis, the chief of Arista Records, Manilow’s label, was in London and heard the Cassidy record on the radio. He suggested the song to Manilow. Manilow liked the song but was reluctant to record it. As he wrote in his autobiography Sweet Life, “The problem with the song was that if you didn’t listen carefully to the lyric, you would think that the singer was singing about himself. It could be misinterpreted as a monumental ego trip.”
I listened to the lyrics very carefully and can tell you that based on my multiple listens (and an interview with Bruce Johnston I read), the “I” in “I Write the Songs” is God. See that? The song is someone claiming to speak for God. Nothing egotistical about that! God wrote all the songs that make the whole world sing. This leads to the profoundly earth-shattering realization that God wrote “My Humps.” Praise be Him!
“I Write the Songs” won Johnston the 1976 Grammy Award for Song of the Year over such worthwhile nominees as “Afternoon Delight,” “Breaking is Hard to Do” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The Beach Boys never won a Grammy. The man who wrote most of the songs for The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, won his first Grammy in 2005 – Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.” Was that his most award-worthy contribution to popular music? The “I” of “I Write the Songs” has the answer to that question, but He’s not telling. I guess God only knows.
Today the man(ilow) who claims to have been alive forever turns 71. Here are some of my favorites from his oeuvre.
I lost track of what day it was and in doing so missed posting about George Harrison’s birthday, which was yesterday.
The Beatles are my favorite recoding act of all-time, and if I had to rank the group’s members in order, George would make the top four (no disrespect to Pete Best).
I’d been thinking about what to post for George’s birthday for a couple of weeks. His recordings are not on Spotify, the program I use to create the playlists in each blog entry. I couldn’t find any worthwhile vintage performance clips of George on YouTube. I could post the music video for “Got My Mind Set on You,” but that track is hardly representative of the man’s genius. I was leaning toward creating a playlist of great covers of George’s songs, but what I came up with before abandoning that idea was an unremarkable collection that would not serve as a fitting tribute.
I love so many of his songs – “My Sweet Lord,” “Handle With Care” (Traveling Wilburys), “The Inner Light” (The Beatles), “What Is Life,” “All Those Years Ago,” “It Don’t Come Easy” (written by George and Ringo Starr, recorded by Ringo), “Something” (The Beatles), “Here Comes the Sun” (The Beatles), “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (The Beatles), “If Not For You,” and “When We Was Fab” at the forefront, though my favorite of George’s solo recordings is “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” In his autobiography George wrote “This song is a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it.” The Lord and I aren’t on speaking terms; however, I love the song’s message. I’m a sucker for songs espousing love for all. “Put a Little Love in Your Heart?” Yes! “Love Train?” Hell, yeah! The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” Sure, even though it includes the lyric “to discriminate only generates hate / And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah / Badness is what you demonstrate.” And then you won’t be able to meet a mate named Nate / You won’t even get a date / To gain weight will be your fate / You won’t make it through the gate and then you’ll be late / That isn’t great.” And that’s why I adore George’s “Give Me Love.”
The Johnny Cash playlist kicks off with his 1963 hit “Ring of Fire.” The writing of the song is credited to June Carter, who married Johnny in 1968, and Merle Kilgore. Though initially recorded by Carter’s sister Anita, Carter said the song was inspired by Cash, who at that time was her friend and singing partner. Though not romantically-involved, she was drawn to him against her better judgment, despite his drug use. Per June, there is “no way to extinguish a flame that burns, burns, burns.”
Cash’s wife at that time, Vivian Liberto, claimed that June had nothing to do with writing that song. Per Liberto, Johnny wrote it “while pilled up and drunk” and it’s not about the love June described, but rather it’s “about a certain private female body part,” which provides a much different image to accompany the line “I went down, down, down.” I’m not an expert on this body part to which Liberto refers, but if it burns, burns, burns, you should probably have it checked out by a professional. Anyway, Liberto said Cash gave Carter the writing credit because she needed the money.
Our Fats Domino playlist kicks off with one of Richie Cunningham’s favorites, “Blueberry Hill.” Though Domino wrote many of his hits, this one was written by Vincent Rose, Larry Stock and Al Lewis (not the Grandpa Munster Al Lewis) in 1940.
Domino recorded this song at a session after he ran out of material. His long-time producer, Dave Bartholomew, was against doing the song, perhaps because all of Fat’s hits up to that point had been original compositions. Domino’s version hit #2 in 1957 and has become one of his most recognizable recordings.
Some other facts about Fats: In the fifties he sold more records than any other rock & roll artist except Elvis Presley; he’s had 35 US top 40 pop hits; his song “The Fat Man,” from 1949, is considered by many to be the first rock and roll record; today he turns 86.