Tag Archives: zero to hero

Michael Jackson: Now & Then

MJ2Trepidation and suspicion.

Those were my initial feelings when I heard of the plans to release a new posthumous Michael Jackson album composed of songs ‘from his archive’. It didn’t surprise me that a record label had found yet another way to generate money utilizing Michael Jackson’s name and image (and songs which Jackson never intended to share with the public). What has surprised me is the excitement this new album has stirred among tried and true Jackson fans. Are they the victims of a marketing and publicity blitz – or – are they open to the fact that, although the circumstances aren’t ideal, this is an opportunity to hear ‘new’ music from one of the greatest performers in music history?

xscapeMy plan was to ignore this new album – this Frankenstein creation. In my opinion, unearthing older Jackson songs that were never meant to see the light of day; splicing Michael’s vocals with the voices of current pop stars while giving producers the goal to make the music sound ‘contemporary’ and ‘radio friendly’ seems more horrific than anything portrayed in the “Thriller” video.

I was planning to hold my own personal protest. Instead of buying and listening to this new album – I would listen to Thriller (yet again) from start to finish (that’ll show them!). And then maybe move on to Bad – and then back to Off the Wall.

But I have to admit I’m curious. I’m curious to hear what these songs sound like. Will any of them come close to being as good as “The Lady in My Life” or “Beat It” or “Human Nature”? And I’m curious to see how I’ll react.  Is there anyway I can listen objectively? Well, there’s only one way to find out.

So – I’m going to listen to this new album – and I’ll share my reaction with you. But I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. How do you feel about posthumous releases? Crass record label money-making technique  – or a gift to fans? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Now – I’m going to prepare to listen to this new album. But first . . . maybe I’ll listen to Thriller, one more time.

Previous Michael Jackson posts can be found here and here

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Eurythmics’ Lasting Embrace

eurythmics 2Touch is the album responsible for my 30 year love affair with Eurythmics. Like most of the western world I discovered the duo via their hit “Sweet Dreams,” in 1983. It’s undeniably one of the great pop songs of the 80’s. But Touch is the album that grabbed me and turned me into a fan, but also something more than a fan.

I can remember memorizing and analyzing the lyrics to each and every song; staring at the album cover as the record spun on my turntable; and, in non-cable-ready 1980’s Brooklyn, staying up until 12:30 AM at the end of the week hoping Friday Night Videos would play one of their songs. Although I practiced the same level of near religious devotion with many other bands at the time – there was something about Eurythmics’ music that had meaning for me, connected with me on a personal level, perhaps, more than any other. Somehow this new wave group from the UK perfectly synced with the sensibilities of a 16-year old African-American kid from Crown Heights – and that relationship has endured for 30 years. It feels almost impossible for me to sum up how and why I feel the way I do about this band in a single post – – so let’s do this in stages. Let’s start off by talking about Annie Lennox’s voice.

A voice that simultaneously sends chills down your spine and warms your heart. At one moment you feel like the singer is turning her back on you and the next, running towards you for an embrace. Within one song she conjures a myriad of emotions – love, anger, fear, hope.  The voice is vulnerable. It’s brittle. It soothes and it twists the knife.

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Read the lyrics of the first four lines of “Who’s That Girl,” the first song on Side B.

The language of love

slips from my lover’s tongue

Cooler than Ice cream

and warmer than the sun

This person she sings about sounds pretty great. You’d want to wake up next to him every morning, right? But listen to her sing these lines and immediately it’s a completely different story.

spotify:track:6P8kyob4SPq2Z0TBEHzgZy

Even without hearing the rest of the song you’re suspicious of this lover – his motives, his actions, his words. What Is Lennox conveying – is it nostalgia tinged with cynicism? A mixture of joy shadowed by fear? Continue listening and you know it’s all of the above. Yes, love is a stranger, but it’s also a minefield –  and an unfaithful lover is just one of the dangers leading to a broken heart.

As a teenager you begin to take steps into adulthood without realizing it. If you’re lucky, you fall in love for the first time and begin to understand how surprisingly complex relationships can be. Sometimes you have moments of pure, easy joy. And then eruptions of jealousy and fear. For me, the music of Eurythmics and other pop bands were like a little pocket manual. “Oh – I’ve never felt this specific feeling before – but it does remind me of what Annie/Michael//Tina/Daryl/Paul are singing about.”

Now, pop music is less of a manual and more of a beacon – a way for me to remember and reconnect with some of the feelings and experiences I had 30 years ago. And Annie Lennox guides me back like no one else.

Number One this Week in 1984: Lionel Richie’s Hello

lionel-richie-hello-1984Every time a Lionel Richie song went to the top of the charts in 1984 it was a victory for the Average Joe. Now don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing average about Richie’s talent. He’s a brilliant song writer who has created some of the most indelible pop songs of our generation, both with the Commodores and as a solo artist. But place Richie alongside Boy George, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Cameo or David Lee Roth and it’s remarkable that the relatively mild mannered pop star didn’t get lost amidst the flash of his fellow music artists.

Ok – so Richie may not have had the moves of Prince, the mystique of Cameo, the quirky affability of Cyndi Lauper, the cool of Hall & Oates, or the sex appeal of Duran Duran. But he did have an album full of perfect pop songs –  including “Hello,” – which went to number one on both the R&B and Pop charts in May 1984. “Hello” also produced one of greatest music videos of the 1980s.

Following the video check out the 6 greatest things about Lionel Richie’s “Hello”.

This post is in response to the Daily Posts’s – Writing Challenge.

6. Lionel Richie’s Acting. Before the song starts Richie busts out some serious acting chops. He is quite convincing as an obsessed drama teacher. James Lipton eat your heart out!

Hello Hallway

5. Sweet Song, Creepy Plot: Lionel plays a drama coach who is also stalking one of his students. Ballet class? He’s there. Lunch break? He’s there! Drama Class? Well, sure he’s there because he’s the drama teacher – but still! Does this community college of the visual and performing arts perform background checks on their teachers?

4. Michael Peters Cameo! The great choreographer appears as Lionel Richie’s love interest’s dance instructor. Peters was the absolute best. In addition to Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” he also choreographed the dance numbers in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” and “Thriller” videos (discussed here). These are pop culture gifts! All hail Michael Peters!

Laura Carrington

 

3. The Blind Student. Was there anyone prettier than Laura Carrington? Oh man, why wasn’t she a bigger star?

 

 

2. The Call is coming from inside the house! Int, Night, Dark House: “A Blind woman steps out of shower, she’s alone in the the house and then . . . the phone rings!!!” Is this a horror movie or a music video? OR BOTH?!?!

And the number one greatest thing about Lionel Richie’s “Hello” . . .

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David Byrne: Now & Then

Byrne 84

When pop music stars find themselves establishing relatively long careers (’10 years and I still have a record contract!’) they have to make decisions about how they’ll continue their time in the spotlight. Some fight tooth and nail to maintain their relevancy – working hard to remain on top of the charts and in the hearts and minds of young music fans by any means necessary. And then there are the musicians who – decade after decade – keep their foothold in the zeitgeist without any air of desperation. They’re cool, not pandering. They create music for themselves and it’s up to us whether we decide to come along for the ride.

Why a big hat?

Why a big hat?

David Byrne is decidedly in the latter category – a fact confirmed for me by his performance at the William Onyeabor tribute this past weekend at BAM. David Byrne shared the stage with more than a dozen other musicians but all eyes in the mostly 20/30-something crowd seemed fixed on him. I know I was focused on him  – happy to have a chance to see him perform live, yet again.

 

 

During the show I flash-backed to 1984 (something I’ve been doing a lot of since I began this blog), the year Talking Heads released the seminal concert film Stop Making Sense (if you love music and/or film and haven’t seen this movie – PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE rent/stream/purchase it. It’s absolutely perfect! Director Jonathan Demme captures Talking Heads at their peak. The camera knows exactly when to push in, pull back or just sit still and let the band do its work.)

Comparing Byrne’s performances in Stop Making Sense and at BAM reveal to me 1) his remarkable consistency in style and interests 2) how he is just as entertaining but has grown even more fascinating over the past 30 years.

See what I mean? I love the idea that all of the people in the audience thought they were going to a rock show – but instead Reverend Byrne took them to CHURCH! Is this the sound of secular gospel music channeled through RISD and CBGB? Is this the moment when the New Testament of world music begins to replace the Old Testament of rock and roll? Is the pastor in the big suit possessed by the holy spirit? Is he Speaking in Tongues?

Ok – so I’m no Jonathan Demme, but I hope this clip conveys both the joy the audience and Byrne is experiencing. In Stop Making Sense – I feel like I’m watching DAVID BYRNE –  a persona created for the concert. It’s an ecstatic performance but I have no idea what’s going on under the slicked back hair and the big suit? Is he enjoying himself? Does he like his bandmates? What does he think of the audience? All of that mystery is intriguing but 30 years of it would have probably grown tiresome. Today – I think we get a pretty good glimpse of the actual man. Look at him – he’s SMILING. He seems sincerely happy to be on this stage, performing music he loves, to a crowd of 2,000 fans.

Over the years, Byrne (like David Bowie and Annie Lennox) – dropped the character. He’s less overtly odd – but has become more interesting. He’s openly pursued his musical passions and followed his creative impulses. I’m sure the ego is there and he wants to succeed, but I think the music comes first. If only other artists from the 80’s felt the same way. David Byrne collaborating with St. Vincent seems inspired. Madonna performing with Miley Cyrus seems really sad.

I haven’t followed all of Byrne’s efforts over the past 3 decades but it’s a pleasure to know that even when the masses may not be paying attention – he continues creating, innovating, writing – and doing what he does best – being David Byrne.

 

The Poetry of Queen: Radio Ga Ga

Queen image

A song lamenting the loss of radio’s popularity that produced a music video that went into heavy rotation on MTV. There’s a bit of a contradiction there, no? But Queen owned this irony. They included clips from their previously popular music videos in the video for Radio Ga Ga and took partial responsibility for killing the radio star.

But there isn’t anything ironic about the song’s lyrics or Freddie Mercury’s performance. Straightforward and earnest. The band is wearing their nostalgia like a badge of honor.

I can relate.

I’d sit alone and watch your light

My only friend through teenage nights

And everything I had to know

I heard it on my radio

——————————————————–

So don’t become some background noise

A backdrop for the girls and boys

Who just don’t know or just don’t care

And just complain when you’re not there

You had your time, you had the power

You’ve yet to have your finest hour

Radio.

All we hear is Radio ga ga

Radio goo goo

Radio ga ga

All we hear is Radio ga ga

Radio blah blah

Radio what’s new?

Radio, someone still loves you!