MUSICAL STOCKING STUFFERS FROM THE LAST 40 YEARS
The 60's was a turning point in music. Adult music, largely based on big band jazz, was winding down with artists like Frank Sinatra making their last stand, being superceded by a similar but modern genre lead by Barbara Streisand who is still making waves in the media to this very day (as singer, actor and filmmaker, directing such major titles as the Prince of Tides). While not truly fitting into the genre of "young" music, Streisand did work with the Bee Gees on an album, plus sang the original version of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work" -- prior to Steely Dan actually becoming a recording entity. (Steely Dan would go on to strike many hits and put some some truly classic tunes, including "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", "Do It Again", "Kid Charlemaign" and "Josie", working right up to today with a new album released right at the turn of this century!)
Teenage music was also due for a change, although the young people didn't know it in 1960, but the era of singers like Elvis Presley, Bobby Vinton and Connie Francis would be replaced by 1964 with a rough edged sound of garage rock lead by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, The Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. This new breed of rock music would endure past the end of the 20th century.
The early half of the 1960's would be dominated by several sounds. The older boop-boop-she-bop rock 'n' roll we now refer to as "golden oldies" along with a newer breed of pop music clones written by very young songwriters including Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, backed by hot session players, largely from a clique called the 'Wrecking Crew' (featuring Hal Blaine on drums, Tommy Tedesco and Glenn Campbell on guitar, Carole Kay on Bass or Guitar, with a variety of sit-ins on keyboards including the likes of Leon Russell or Daryl Dragon), produced by either Phil Spector or Don Kirshner and featuring a diverse bunch of front people including The Righteous Brothers, Little Eva (who was Carole King's cook!), the Mama's and Papa's, the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, just to name a few. Also in the 60's would also develop the Motown Sound out of the front room of Berry Gordy's house in Detroit, Michigan (known as Hitsville USA), featuring artists like Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Ike and Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson and the Jackson Five, along with the dynamic tunesmiths Holland-Dozier-Holland. From this would emerge some major heavy-weight contenders, including the prime diva, Diana Ross and the king of pop, Michael Jackson, along with the multi-talented Stevie Wonder.
From the distinctly lighter pop scene came Dione Warwick sporting a string of hits from Burt Bacharach and Hal David lead by the mega-tune 'Do You Know The Way to San Jose.'
Folk music was also quite popular in the 60's, but mostly as a hold over from the 1950's beatnik era. Folk and neo-folk sounds would play an important role in the Hell No, We Won't Go and freelove period with artists like Joan Baez, Pete Seger, a fourteen year old girl by the name of Janis Ian who would tackle racial intolerance an homosexuality with her commercial and controversial songs like 'Society's Child' and 'Seventeen.' Of course, Bob Dylan was the most known of all the folk artists of this era, turning electrified at later date much to the dismay of some of his hard-core fans! There was also more pop oriented folk and pseudo folk from artists like Judy Collins, who served as the inspiration of Stephen Still's song 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' of the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album made in collaboration with David Crosby (from the Byrds) and Graham Nash (from Britain's The Hollies). There was also Peter, Paul and Mary, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkle and the Mama's and Papa's.
The British invasion of the early 1960s starting with the Beatles was actually founded on black music. R+B artists from the late 50's were the primary musical influences of both the Beatles and the Stones, however these were more hardcore than what whites in America were embracing (which was mostly the Motown pop R & B sound). American youth, however, took to the Beatles like bees to honey! Not since young Frank Sinatra in the 1940s had young people screamed, jumped, fainted and pressed up against the stage in the sheer numbers the Beatles would command. And while artists could easily fill large club venues like the Apollo Theater, the Beatles were filling Shea Stadium in New York City. That unheard of for a single artist. Oh, maybe a dozen artists could have that kind of draw at a Lillith Fair type concert, but one group of rag-tag boys could overfill a stadium that normally had vacant seats during baseball season! Through serendipity they also created the concept album that remains as their ultimate classic: ' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.'
There was also room in this era for instrumental jazz and blues from the virtuoso artistry of B.B. King and Wes Montgomery (who started controversy with his explorations of pop and rock music in songs like the Beatles cover tune: 'A Day in the Life').
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Another instrumental fad that launched a mega studio was the Mariachi based trumpet offering of Herb Alpert. Alpert had been in sales and marketing with RCA, but they weren't interested in his trumpet playing band, the Tijuana Brass, so with his brother in law he formed A & M Record, put out a song called The Lonely Bull which went into the top 10 on radio! He left RCA (they still distrubted his records) and over the new few decades would put some interesting music out there, include Serigio Mendez and The Carpenters, a brother/sister act that made it into the top 10 many times in the 1970s before Karen Carpenter's untimely death.
In the late 60's the Doors fused jazz music (the mainstay of guitarist Robbie Kreiger), classical music (the mainstay of keyboardist Ray Manzarak) and avant garde poetry crooned in a deep voice (the mainstay of writer-singer Jim Morrison) and gave birth to the earliest form of "modern rock." Ending out this period was John Foggerty from California's Silicone Valley and his down south Bayou music that dominated pop radio with hit after hit including 'Green River', 'Born on the Bayou', 'Down On The Corner' and the original 'Proud Mary'.
A stronger edge was added to the music world by Jimi Hendrix in the mid-60s. Originally he got booed off a lot of stages (he once opened, for the Monkees, as an example of miscasting) but as he found his audience he helped to create the genre of music we now know as Hard Rock verging on Heavy Metal. Big stacks of Marshall amplifiers cranked up in volume so intense that the guitar playing became distorted. Drums doing more than just holding a down beat. Following closely behind him was Cream with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. The Who also became more edgy in their playing putting out landmark albums like Who's Next..
Aggressive music even influnced folk-type artists as David Crosby left his Byrds legacy of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and 'Turn, Turn, Turn' behind to give us 'Almost Cut My Hair' with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as the 70s turned the corner into the 80s. Still on this album is found the softer and more folksy 'Teach Your Children' featuring one of the finest pedal steel guitar solos ever played, by guest artist Jerry Garcia, who normally played aggressive fuzz solos for the Grateful Dead (which was a major drawing live act, but had no real mega hits until the late 1980's with "Touch of Grey"). However some folkers, such as John Denver, remained acoustically oriented throughout their careers.
By the time the 1970s were upon us Led Zeppelin had emerged as the summit of aggressive rock and metal. To this day any band or guitar player who is into aggressive rock eventually discovers something from Zep, be it the classic 'Stairway to Heaven', a rocker like 'Black Dog' or 'Whole Lotta Love.' Another aggressive rock band, Van Halen, also rose later in this era, cementing for all time the concepts that began with Hendrix and were pushed along by Clapton and Paige: The superstar guitarist. Every band eventually had to have one (as we'll see later in later in the likes of Joe Walsh and Lindsey Buckingham) to survive!
The 70s also gave birth to the next trend in popular and rock music: Country rock, initially led by a girl from Arizona named Linda Ronstadt who was not only one of the finest singers of this century, but knew how to turn b-sides and country tunes into megga-crossover-pop hits. Virtually everything she did was a 'cover' tune, she has never really penned any song of her own, but by the end of the 1970s she had risen to stellar magnitude culminating with the 'Simple Dreams' album. She also helped to give birth to the Eagles, the premier country rock group of this period, who were, originally, her back up band. The Eagles, along with Jackson Browne, comprised a very large chunk of popular music from 1970 to 1979 with hits like 'Take It Easy', 'Peaceful Easy Feelin', 'Road and the Sky', 'Doctor My Eyes' and eventually getting more rock oriented with the addition of Joe Walsh on guitar with his: 'Life in the Fast Lane'.
Aside from Berry Gordy, whose Motown was now moving from Detroit to Los Angeles and becoming every bit as big and powerful as Warner, Capitol and CBS Records, the behind the scene influences of Don Kirshner and Phil Spector had all but died, now being replaced by corporate monsters: Ahmet Ertgun from Atlantic Records (Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills and Nash, etc.), Clive Davis from CBS (Blood Sweat and Tears, Janis Joplin, Chicago, etc.), Dave Geffin from Asylum (The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, etc.) and the least known but most important Ted Templeman from Warner Records (The Doobie Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Van Halen, etc.).
Diana Ross was now a solo artist and major diva in R & B music, crossing over to the silver screen as jazz-blues artist Billie Holiday in a biographical picture, marking the entry of blacks into the creating of cinema history which had been dominated by paler shades for decades (doing biographies of Red Nichols, Glenn Miller and Al Jolson). Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson had each grown to enormous proportions in the cross over market (with the likes of Linda Rondstadt eventually covering many Smokey Robinson tunes on her albums in the mid-70s).
Little Stevie Wonder had grown up considerably and became a master of the keyboards, finding the new electronic wonder the synthesizer and doing more than almost anyone else with it on songs like 'Superstition' and 'Isn't She Lovely.'
Women rockers were given an initial push by Heart who would take to the field virtually alone, eventually paving the wave for more females in aggressive rock music later on in the 1990s. The easy listening and pop genre became dominated in the late 70's and early 80's by influence of another woman from Arizona, Stevie Nicks, with her comrade in arms guitarist Lindsey Buckingham who were working on a self-produced, self-financed project with engineer Keith Olsen, who would be one of the definers of music in the 1980s. Olsen was approached by blues artists Fleetwood Mac who had album commitment but had lost both their guitar players. In the process of auditioning recording engineer Keith Olsen, he played the Nicks-Buckingham tapes which impressed drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass player John McVie, who, along with keyboardist Christine Perfect-McVie was all that remained of a band whose roots came from John Mayall and the output, which consisted of about a few recordings, had largely been only 'Bare Trees' (spawning one hit for guitarist Carlos Santana's band: Black Magic Woman). When these vastly different musical souls came together the output would be one hit after another through the 1980s. It began with 'Rhiannon' in 1979 and moved at the speed of light with 'Dreams', 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow' and a slew of other hits later in the 80s.
Also prominent in the later 1970s was a new trend called "corporate rock" of which many groups would eventually become catagorized in this genre, but leading off the pack with several smash albums was Foreigner with songs like "Double Vision" and "Cold As Ice".
Women in rock got an additional boost from the Pretenders whose first release had a major impact in the late 70's with the pop hit 'Brass in Pocket' and the more aggressive 'Mystery Achievement.' They continued working into th 1980's before deaths and break-ups within the band occurred on the eve of the next big album. From the punk scene Blondie started getting more pop, which got them on the charts big time with "Heart of Glass".
Prince and the Revolution reached a pinnacle with both the film and album 'Purple Rain' sporting a song that freaked out the mainstay at the studio because it has no bass track, the classic 'When Doves Cry' (check it out, its got keyboards and drums but no bass line) his band was composed entirely of talented women players (of course on his earlier efforts Prince played his own instruments and he also guests on many albums without credit, including all the keyboard work on a Stevie Nicks solo hit which was inspired by a Prince song -- he showed up at the studio with keyboards galore). He eventually dropped the name Prince and became known as a graphic ICON symbol (however everyone simply referred to him after that point as the 'Artist formerly known as Prince') and now wants to simply be known as the 'Artist.'
Templeman was still at Warners working to make Van Halen bigger and create a swan song masterpiece for the Doobies (who had shifted from rough voice, guitar oriented southern rock from Tom Jonston to the more bluesy, keyboard drive lead of Michael McDonald) with 'Minute by Minute.' Warners had also picked up a new fad (the boy toy) who would eventually become the ruling diva of pop music: Madonna, who had a minor release followed by a major push with the film Desperately Seeking Susan and a huge follow-up album produced by Nile Rodgers that would spawn 'Like A Virgin' and 'Material Girl' -- while Cyndi Lauper was telling us that girls just want to have fun with a dynamite album that also spawned several hits.
Diana Ross was still going strong but of all the Motown alumni both Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder struck bars and bars of platinum with their separate releases. Jackson, with the Thriller album which featured Eddie Van Halen on guitar in the song 'Beat It!' Stevie Wonder put out the mega alubm Songs in the Key of Life and the mega hit 'I Just Called To Say I Love You' which swept the pop world by storm -- to the point where the long six minute version was often played on radio.
The 80s also saw the rise of Reggae in popular music. While the Beatles had helped introduce SKA to mainstream music with their 1969 hit 'Obla-de' and in the early 1970s Johnny Nash struck a big cord with a reggae flavored ditty called 'I Can See Clearly Now' and a follow up lesser hit from 'Stir it Up' with Paul Simon giving us pop-reggae in 'Mother and Child Reunion' off his self-title solo album, plus Eric Clapton covering a Marley tune to great success with 'I Shot The Sheriff' all of these were watered down, corporate pop rock versions of what Bob Marley and the Whalers was doing for years and years in the islands near Florida. He, now, was reaching American audiences, largely due to the Rolling Stones taking him on tour with them.
Elsewhere in rock major influences also included Bon Jovi and later in the 80's a band I first saw live and for free at the Los Angeles Street Scene just prior to their record release on Dave Geffin's new label: Guns 'n' Roses.
Clive Davis had left CBS records and started his own label, Arista, and spent a long time and lots of money grooming terrific debut artist: Whitney Houston, whose first album spawned several hits that still get played on today's radio (such as 'How Will I Know').
Rap music was also seeing the start of what would, with teenagers, replaced aggressive rock as the mainstay for the next few decades. Rap was an underground phenomenon created by home-brew producers and mean street performers. One of the first such records to hit the charts was 'Rumors' by the Timex-Social Club. Originally produced as a one-shot 1,000 pressing by a produce who had a regular day job but worked hard for that little group he found. One day someone from Texas calls and wanted to order 50,000 records. No one got rich of this record, except the lawyers, but it showed people that for a few thousand dollars you could sells hundreds of thousands of records. From this period emerged bands like Run DMC, Dr. Dre, N.W.A., the Beastie Boys among many others.
Rising on the scene was an obscure undeground band called Journey, who rose to mega fame after the addition of front man and lead singer Steve Perry, whose first outting with the band hit the charts with "Wheel in the Sky". Journey also featured former Santana keyboardist Greg Rollie who eventually retired from Journey just prior to their super megga hit "Who's Crying Now".
As with white music on the independent scene, which has always been around. Hell, Sun Records was a little dinky company that just happened to discover Elvis Presley. But the Copeland's and IRS started something with the Police, which happened to have a player whose last name was Copeland! IRS hit the big time in the early 80s with a tune called 'Roxanne.' Sting and the group were off and through the rest of the 80s we would see indy record clones for both white and black artists, of which R.E.M. would emerge as one of the most major mainstream acts, helping the make the major labels buy up all the minor labels and thus ending an era of independent music by the 1990s.
Latin music until now had largely been from the jazz arena (Xavier Cugat's big band and the Stan Getz-Antonio Carlos Jobim sessions) and represented in rock largely by Carlos Santana. In the 80s, however, a new star arose with Cuban roots, Gloria Estafan and the 'Miami Sound'.
The roots of today's music began in the late 1980s with both rap and grunge, the later coming of age with the major release from Nirvana (and the so-called "Seattle" sound), quickly followed by a whole list of bands including Pearl Jam, Hole, Garbage, leading up to today's Limp Bisket and Blink 182. Nirvana defined the corner between 1980 and 1990, which also saw the stellar rise in rap and hip-hop, which comprises the urban sound and also makes up a portion of the pop music world of hit radio.
Urban music is basically what the Beatles and Stones listened to in the early 1960s. Underground black artists who got some exposure, but only with lighter, poppy-flavored hit offerings. This sound was not the Motown sound. Second city radio (in Chicago where I grew up mainstay was WLS and the urban sound was WYNR, which was very popular with the 'fast' crowd at school) was now first city radio. Urban music, being embraced by not just blacks, but whites and Hispanics, was now leading the ratings in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago (hence the moniker, urban sound). While rap music was largely poetry scatted over drum machine, hip-hop was full scale music. Bass, guitars, keyboards, with more traditional singing that scatted and often went into a full scale rap or featured a secondary rap singer. The music has some disco roots, some R & B flavoring, a lot of soul singing and that staccato rap flavor.
A lot of today's girl groups got their inspiration or come directly from the poppy side of hip-hop or dance R & B including Brandy and Monika. Sweden's Robyn give them as her earliest influences (and out of all the girls I single her 1990's release, Robyn is Here, out as one of my most easy to listen to selections, because it's filled with a lot of very adult images from a then 17 year old girl).
Helping to define the era of commercial hip-hop is producer Dallas Austin (who has worked with Michael Jackson, Boyz To Men, Madonna, Monica and Deborah Cox) who crowning effort in most recent times was Fanmail from TLC which spawned the hits 'No Scrubs' and 'Unpretty'.
Many artists were digging through the archives and making new arrangements out of hits from the 60s and 70s with the Fugees, for example doing a updated version of Roberta Flack's classic hit 'Killing Me Softly' and then Fugee alumni Layrn Hill going out on her own and striking it very big with the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill the CD which netted her 8 Grammy nominations and 4 big wins, with cuts staying on the Urban and Hip-Hop charts for two years.
Rap goes from one extreme to the other. On the conservative end is Will Smith and I personally can't get into his pop blend of rap, favoring the X rated extremely radical side of rap often used by John Singleton in his soundtracks for movies like Boys 'n' The Hood where rap stands out as a tell-it-like it is, no holds barred look at life. The first protest music I've heard since people like Pete Seger ('Waist Deep In The Muddy Water') from the 1960s. In the middle are the kinds of rap songs that hit mainstream radio, but usually with minor edits as the language and concepts are very adult and R or X rated.
By now, radio music was split into three genres: Urban, pop-rock and alternative, the latter given a big boost by Nirvana in the 1990s. The rock started by Hendrix, the Stones and Cream was now called classic rock and had a dwindling audience and little new in releases.
The mainstream tastes were going to artists like Suzanne Vega and Alanis Morisette whose debut album on Madonna's Maverick record label endured for several years winning multiple Grammies for songs like the title cut Jagged Little Pill. The country flavored pop-rocker Sheryl Crow has been a mainstay. But the premier female artist of the 90's has consistently been Canadian Sarah McLaughin whose late 90's release top the charts with 'Building a Mystery'. Traditional country music, which had risen back to mainstream radio starting with Dolly Parton in the late 1970s, followed in the 1980s with other mainstream country artists, again spawned a cross-over mega hit with Shawn Colvin's "Sunny Came Home" of her Few Small Repairs album. Prior to this Colvin had only been given exposure on shows like Larry Sanders starring Garry Shandling. Faith Hill was also making waves, getting a real boost with her live performance at the Grammy awards the year Santana swept that show, which also turned Jennifer Lopez (who portrayed the tragic Latina singer Selena who was murdered at the start of her career, in the bio-film of her short life) into a household name with her low cut dress helping to get her and X Files star (her co-presener) David Douchvny on front page newspapers.
Underground alternative genre bands, like the SKA based No Doubt surfaced big time with multiple radio hits ('Girl', 'Spider Webs' and the Grammy nominated 'Don't Speak'). Elsewhere in alternative music the Red Hot Chilipeppers put out an album with mass popularity called Californication, which crossover into the mainstream pop charts with several tunes.
As the 90's came to a close Latin artists were making it big on world-wide mainstream radio with super hits from ex-Menudo kid artist Ricky Martin, a gigantic production CD guided in by Clive Davis for Carlos Santana (which features a song produced by hip-hopper Lauryn Hill) that swept the Grammy's and former Mickey Mouse Club regular Christina Aguillera who was a 'Genie in a Bottle' clear into the start of the 21st century on hit radio. The biggest girls of the era, however, were the Spice Girls from England with their mega album Spice.
The new boy-toy on the block was another Mickey Mouse alumni, Britney Spears who smash album spawned multiple hits. Also coming up in the world were guy singing groups like In Sync and the Backstreet Boys, whose album is still generating #1 hits almost three years after its release.
Right now the rage is alternative rock masters Blink 182 and mainstream pop rockers Vertical Horizon, along with pop artists Dido and Nelly Furtado comprise the lions share of mainstream radio and CD sales.
And I just discovered that -- and this is a long stretch and doesn't fit our catagory -- aside from Hawaiian crooner Don Ho, there are no prominent Asian musical artists on mainstream radio! Asian and Asian-American artists: Your time is long over due! Organize and demand your day in radio from the major labels!
(Also contributing to this piece was K.C., Tony Russo, Alan Mayer and Sakshi.)
The Best of Bill Withers - Lean on Me. Featuring classics like Just the Two of Us and Lean on Me, this album conjurs up images of the 70's, soulful singing, and live instrumentals. A couple of my favorites from this album are "You Just Cant Smile it Away" and "Use Me", both including killer lyrics unlike anything you hear on the radio today. If you are in the mood to take it back to the old school, pick this album up now. New Music
Tori Amos - StrangeLittleGirls
The latest album by Tori Amos is composed entirely of cover songs, however her interpretations of such songs as Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence", Lou Reed's "New Age", Neil Young's "Heart of Gold", and The Beatle's "Happiness is a Warm Gun" are pleasantly surprising. She re-envisions each song and gives them her own twist. For example, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" features sound clips from George H. W. Bush as well as his son George W. Bush.
The song which stood out far and away from the rest and continues to haunt you long after the music has stopped is her take on Eminem's "97 Bonnie and Clyde". The song tells the story of a man who murders his wife, then takes his daughter along to dispose of the body. He tells his daughter that mommy is just taking a nap and has spilled ketchup on herself. He dumps the body in the water explaining that mommy wants to go for a swim. The music alone is enough to put you in a dark mood. Added with Tori's haunting vocals, the song becomes eerie enough to send shivers down your spine.
I'm a bit annoyed at the marketing ploy of releasing this album with four different covers in order to make maximum cash off the most rabid Tori fans. One of the people I work with just had to have all of the covers, so I guess it's working, but the stench of consumerism still makes me sick.
Forget about that last paragraph. Tori Amos has created yet another awesome album with a dozen solid songs. This album is fantastic and any lover of music should definitely run out and buy a copy, but please don't buy more than one.
From last year (2001):