A Martin Luther King Day Playlist

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 1963

“He had a dream now it’s up to you to see it through, to make it come true” – “King Holiday”

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Winston + King

King Holiday

Winston + King

There was a trend in eighties pop music of superstars banding together for a cause. As trends go, it was certainly better than the medley craze of that same decade. Its high points included “We Are the World,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” “Sun City” and “King Holiday.”

“King Holiday” was the result of a conversation rapper Kurtis Blow had with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s son Dexter. The civil rights leader’s birthday was celebrated as a national holiday for the first time on January 20, 1986. To commemorate the occasion, Blow, along with Grandmaster Melle Mel, Bill Adler and Phillip Jones, composed “King Holiday,” which Blow and Jones produced.

To perform the song, they gathered an impressive list of crossover stars of the day. Joining Kurtis Blow and Melle Mel on the record were Run-D.M.C., Whitney Houston, Lisa Lisa, Full Force, James “JT” Taylor (of Kool & the Gang), Teena Marie, Whodini, Fat Boys, El DeBarge, Stephanie Mills, New Edition, Stacy Lattisaw and Menudo (featuring Ricky Martin). The single made the top 30 on Billboard’s Black Music chart. All proceeds from its sale were donated to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Today Tunes du Jour jumps back in time to sing celebrate sing sing celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Winston + Chic 2014-09-19 13.37

It’s Halloween And I Need To Dance!

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.

Winston + Chic 2014-09-19 13.37
All sorts of freaks and monsters will be out today/tonight for Halloween. This week’s dance party is inspired by the holiday.

Ringo + White Lines 2014-07-25 14.13

Ten Facts About Grandmaster & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” | It’s Friday And I Need To Dance!

Ringo + White Lines 2014-07-25 14.13Ten Facts about Grandmaster & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)”
1. Yes, the word “don’t” is repeated in the parenthetical.
2. Melle Mel was the most prominent rapper in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Grandmaster Flash was the DJ, not a rapper.
3. Though credited to Grandmaster & Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash does not appear on “White Lines,” nor did he appear on the classic “The Message” (“it’s like a jungle sometimes / It makes me wonder how I keep from going under”). Forced out of the group that bore his name, Flash sued Melle Mel and their label, Sugarhill Records, over the use of his name to sell records, the result of which was the odd artist credit on the “White Lines” single.
4. Flash heard “White lines,” about the dangers of cocaine addiction, while on his way to buy crack.
5. Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel reunited in 1987 at a charity concert hosted by Paul Simon.
6. The bassline was lifted from Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern.”
7. The record credits Melle Mel and Sylvia Robinson as the song’s writers. Robinson was the head of Sugarhill Records. Previously, she had a hit in 1973 with “Pillow Talk,” a song she wrote for Al Green, who declined to record it, and as one-half of Mickey & Sylvia, she took the classic ”Love is Strange” to #11 in 1957.
8. The lyrics include a reference to car manufacturer John DeLorean (“A businessman is caught with 24 kilos”). In 1982 the FBI arrested DeLorean for purchasing 24 kilos of coke. The song compares his fate (“He’s out on bail and out of jail”) with that of an inner city youth (“A street kid gets arrested, gonna do some time. He got out three years from now just to commit more crime.”).
9. An unofficial music video for the song was directed by an NYU student named Spike Lee. It starred Laurence Fishburne, the actor who at that time was playing Cowboy Curtis on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
10. The record hit the top ten on the US dance chart in 1983. It kicks off Tunes du Jour’s weekly dance party.

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doggies + James Brown 2014-07-04 10.41

It’s Friday The Fourth Of July And I Need To Dance!

On July 4, 1982, I went with my then-friend Robin to see Diana Ross in concert at Giants Stadium. I hadn’t been to the stadium before, but I figured on a typical day it was about a half hour drive from my home in New Jersey. As this was a holiday, I assumed there would be a lot of traffic, so I allowed for extra travel time. I didn’t want to be late.

We got to Giants Stadium five hours before show time. We parked right by the stadium entrance, went in, and found our seats. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we tanned as we waited for others to join us.

After a few hours other people showed up. The stadium was mostly full when the first opening act took to the stage. The band’s lead singer introduced them. “We’re Frankie Beverly and Maze for all you white people who don’t know who we are because you don’t listen to black music.” He sure knew how to charm an audience and win over new fans! I was momentarily ashamed that I spent my money to see and hear the white music of Diana Ross.

After Maze, Miles Davis performed. Would it have killed him to finish writing the songs before he came out? And hello, the audience is over here, not behind the curtain.

While Davis was playing, the couple sitting next to my then-friend Robin and me snorted cocaine. I’d never seen anyone do that before. They left after Davis finished, skipping the Diana Ross show altogether. That’s all I needed to see to keep me from ever doing coke. I don’t ever want to get to a point where I lose control over my thoughts and whereabouts and miss Miss Ross.

Finally, the main event. Diana Ross. Live. She performed all her big solo hits, except “Love Hangover,” and 30+ years later that still irks me. She did a medley of Supremes hits. She changed her clothes a few times. It was great!

doggies + James Brown 2014-07-04 10.41
Friday is dance day at Tunes du Jour, and while I could open today’s playlist with “Love Hangover” (Why, Miss Ross, why didn’t you preform that song???), I’m going to go with a more traditional 4th of July choice, James Brown’s “Living in America,” one of the very few Brown hits that the man neither wrote nor produced. Happy holiday!

Kings 003

King Holiday

Kings 003

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was first celebrated as a national holiday in the United States on January 20, 1986. To commemorate this, a group of popular urban music acts of that time collaborated on a single entitled “King Holiday.” The song was written by Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Phillip Jones and Bill Adler. Appearing with Blow and Melle Mel on the record are Run-D.M.C., Whitney Houston, Lisa Lisa, Full Force, James “JT” Taylor (of Kool & the Gang), Teena Marie, Whodini, Fat Boys, El DeBarge, Stephanie Mills, New Edition, Stacy Lattisaw and Menudo.

A bill to turn King’s birthday into a national holiday was first introduced to the House of Representatives in 1979, but it didn’t receive enough votes to pass. The following year Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday,” a song calling for the holiday, and organized a rally in Washington DC for the cause. Soon, a petition was circulated calling for the same. Six million signatures were collected. Though President Reagan was initially against the holiday, he later signed the bill authorizing it.

Senator John McCain of Arizona was against the holiday, as was that state’s governor, Evan Meacham. New Hampshire didn’t acknowledge Martin Luther King Day until 1999. South Carolina made King Day a paid holiday for state employees in 2000. Prior to then, employees could choose between observing King’s birthday or one of three Confederate holidays.

Today Tunes du Jour celebrates the birthday and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels of Steel

“Today is Grandmaster Flash’s birthday and schools are closed. Thank you, President Obama.”
– Chris Rock

My plan was to write a post about how great “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” is, but the website Songfacts expressed it perfectly, so I’ll reprint what they wrote:

Folks born after the dawn of Hip-Hop will probably read about this song, listen to it, and wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, it’s just a bunch of dance songs mixed together, and it’s kind of a harsh mix. The big deal is that it was the first song ever made by chopping up pieces of other songs and connecting them in a way to create a new track. It introduced sampling, and spotlighted the cutting and scratching techniques that were the hallmarks of early Hip Hop. Today, any kid can easily make something like this with software that probably came preloaded on his computer, but in 1981, it required 2 turntables and some serious beatmixing skills. Grandmaster Flash was a DJ, not a rapper, and he had been performing in New York city since 1976, often as the entertainment at parties. His art was in figuring out how to mix songs together using their breakbeats, so the music would keep going. He was also one of the first to do scratching, which was moving the record back and forth on the turntable, which made the transitions a lot easier.

There was no editing on this track – Grandmaster Flash did it live in the studio after mapping out his cuts. He would put marks on the labels of his records so he would know when to bring the next one in, which is something he learned playing years of parties. It took him a few takes to get all his cues in the right place, but the end result at the time sounded like perfection. In the era of remixing and editing, every beat can be scrutinized and altered, but considering what Flash accomplished with what he had to work with, it was remarkable and extraordinary. It also demonstrated what you would hear at one of his live performances.

Today’s playlist is inspired by this old school hip-hop classic.