A year ago this Labor Day weekend I was wrapping up a whirlwind weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul with my friend Blake, trying to process a whole lot of emotions. Besides spending time with a close friend, which is always a good thing, I got to get some closure on Prince’s passing. To some, this might be silly, but Prince was one of three guiding musical influences in my teens that helped make me who I am. If you had told me that before the age of 50 that I would lose all three of them (Michael Jackson and George Michael were the other two), I wouldn’t have believed you. But here I am, still moved every time one of them pops up in daily life. While George was the one I related to personally, MJ and Prince brought joy and passion to the plate in ways that changed the music industry and influenced future generations.
Why am I writing this now? Besides the one-year mark, I need to get some of this out. I have about 10 blog posts from over the past two years that have never seen the light of day because I either wasn’t driven enough to finish them or I felt like I couldn’t do them justice. I was deeply moved by much of the stories and art I saw on the fence at Paisley Park, and yet, for a while there, anything I came up with to relate my story felt inadequate in comparison. Even my year-end compilation was over a month late this year.
I can’t make any promises because I’ve broken a few of these in the past, but if nothing else, I want to finish those posts that make sense to finish. If nothing else, it’s time I pay proper tribute to my personal Holy Trinity. Stay tuned…
I occasionally get songs stuck in my head that I haven’t heard in years, and it is always interesting to me why they surface. Recently, Janet Jackson’s “Someday Is Tonight” came to mind, and while I think a conversation might have triggered a lyric from the song, the return of the Rhythm Nation 1814 album cut was quite welcome. “Someday” featured on a few mixtapes of mine back in the day, and that got me thinking about songs that appeared the most on my mixtapes. I wrote about a couple of these over at Wacky on the Junk a few months ago, but here’s a small sampling of my “go-to” tracks:
Kate Bush “This Woman’s Work” – ”I know you have a little life in you yet/I know you have a lot of strength left” The mother of all mixtape songs. If you want a song to end a mixtape with on a huge emotional swoosh, this is the song for you. There is so much emotion that can be pulled out of this song, and sometimes an amazing song like this can be utilized even if the lyrics don’t necessarily match the intended tone. As long as the song adds to the musical landscape, it’s fair game. I never had a personal tie to the lyrics, but the song remains a modern pop masterpiece, whether you are talking about the original by Kate Bush or the remake by Maxwell.
Julian Lennon “Saltwater” – “We’re so ingenious we can walk on the moon” I have a soft spot in my heart for John Lennon in part because my mom has told me I’m named for him. I remember sitting in the bathroom with my mom the day that Lennon died because we had company over, and she was beyond emotional and couldn’t stop crying. So when Julian came along with Valotte, I felt like I had a bit more of a connection to John by proxy. It wasn’t until a few years later when Help Yourself was released that I saw Julian for more than just John’s son. “Saltwater” seems a bit hokey to me now, but at the time I thought it was extremely profound.
Indigo Girls “Power of Two” – “So we’re okay, we’re fine/baby I’m here to stop your crying” This one was a toss-up for me, because “Power” and “Language and the Kiss” both saw some serious usage, but I went with this because a) there’s actually a video; and b) “Power” was used in Boys on the Side, which I loved at the time. Depending on when and how I listen to it, the song is either about a couple surviving despite the obstacles, or a couple breaking up but having no regrets of the life they’ve lived together. Either way, it’s always Emily voice that speaks to me.
The Rembrandts “Confidential Information” – “Confidential information, in a dream a true confession/She didn’t mean to give away such confidential information” No video clip for this track anywhere, but I had to mention this LP track from their debut CD. “Just the Way It Is, Baby” was a bit of fresh air at the time it became a hit, and that pulled me into the full CD. I was pretty horrified when the Rembrandts became “the guys that did the Friends theme” because I didn’t feel like that was their best work. Then again, who am I to begrudge someone making a living?
New Radicals “Someday We’ll Know” – “Someday we’ll know why I wasn’t meant for you” New Radicals were a big sensation when they came out in 1999 because they gave people something to talk about. Whether it was the rap at the end of “You Get What You Give”, the developing enigma surrounding band mastermind Gregg Alexander, the little girl from Archie Bunker’s Place who had grown up and joined a rock band, or the freshness of the music in the midst of a lot of same-sounding tracks, I’m sure none of that attention was unwelcome. Looking back, I am pretty shocked that “Get” only made it to #36 on the Hot 100, although it was much bigger in other countries. For me, the bigger issue is that the follow-up single “Someday We’ll Know” never even charted in the US. “Someday” proves to me that Alexander wasn’t a musical flash in the pan, but to the general public, New Radicals will always be a one-hit wonder.
Prince “Adore” – “Until the end of time/I’ll be there for you” If I had to estimate what song I used on more mixtapes, it would be this one. Since “Adore” is the perfect finale for Sign O the Times, I would put it at the end of any mixtape with a romantic theme. [Honorable mentions for overused romantic songs went to “Follow My Rainbow” by Sheena Easton and “Arms of Orion” by Sheena & Prince] There is such a connection between Prince and his lady that you can’t help but want to feel that same type of connection yourself. From the first drawn-out “ooooooh”, Prince is talking about sex and love and devotion all at the same time.
So what would I put on my modern-day playlist to fill the moody, weighty, deep slot? After a quick glance of my music library from the past year, my mind immediately gravitates to Lady Antebellum’s “Hello World”, which I originally described as the heart of their Need You Now CD. Contemplative? Check. Powerful? Check. Hopeful? Checkmate.
– Recently, I had the pleasure of penning a guest post for Brad over at Wacky On the Junk. He got the idea of asking some of his actual and virtual friends to submit five albums or songs that “changed their lives”, and I was flattered to have him ask me to contribute. Since I don’t ever do anything the easy way, I struggled for a week or so to pull together something that made sense to me until Adele’s “Hometown Glory” came up on my iTunes. From there, it was clear that I would be talking about ballads, and I came up with Five Ballads that Left a Mark.
Among the titles on that list is Prince’s “Adore”, which I described as “my favorite song from my favorite album of all time (Sign o’ the Times).” There’s a reason that BET paid homage to Prince on its BET Awards show last night, and that song, although never a single, to this day gets played on any self-respecting “Quiet Storm” show on R&B stations across the country. While it wasn’t my favorite Prince tribute (that honor goes to Janelle Monae, who I will address in the next couple of days), Alicia Keys did a pretty great version of “Adore” complete with piano climbing and some pretty impressive high notes.
– Tomorrow sees the release of the Scissor Sisters’ Night Work, which looks to be a return to form after the brief diversion that was Ta-Dah. Don’t get me wrong…Ta was a good album, but it wasn’t the stellar work that we were spoiled with on their debut. From what I’ve heard, I really like the more grimy and gritty vibe on Night Work, and a highlight so far has been “Any Which Way”. From what I’ve been told, their performance of “Any” at Glastonbury was one to remember, but maybe that’s because Kylie Minogue showed up and tore it up. Personally, I love Ana Matronic channeling Sandra Bernhard on the bridge.
– With all the musical disappointments in the world (the failure of Mini Viva, Xtina’s new album, Katy Perry at #1), we could use a surprise to cheer us up. Enter Sophie Ellis Bextor, who showed up at NYC Pride yesterday and performed for (and with) the hot, sweaty boys on the Pier. Does this mean that she is going to give the US a go when she releases the next full-length album? Or was she just in the neighborhood and thought she’d just hang out with her gay fans? Either way, who woulda thought?
I woke up this morning to a tweet from @shayneTward (well, not PERSONALLY to me):
I find it disgusting that yet another 1 of my songs have been leaked. I ask all of u to not download or even listen 2 it in respect of me.!
Now there’s a conundrum for the Shayne Ward fan in your life. (Full disclosure if you didn’t already know it: I’m a fan). On one hand, a fan of an artist wants to help that person out and support whatever efforts will allow them to be successful. However, the flip side is that said fan wants to hear that leaked music as soon as possible. So what way do you go?
Leaks have become a completely different beast in the age of the Internet than they ever were in more analog times. My first “leak” was a vinyl copy of the Black Album in the late-80s that I got from a person who worked for a distributor. At the time, I thought I was being all rebellious and connected at the same time, but now I know that the bootleg was actually a promo copy of the aborted (at the time) album. It came as a fully packaged album, with a two-toned black cover, so I should have recognized the effort that went into the packaging. The Black Album was finally released in 1994, although by that time not nearly as many people cared.
So back to the leak at hand. I’ve already talked about two Shayne leaks last month, and as we get closer to the release of his third record, I am sure we will see more. While you want to think that the actions of someone you respect are on the up and up, I can’t help think that bringing attention to a track continues the conversation about the artist started by the first two leaks. Leaks have worked very well in building buzz for artists over the past few years (think Britney’s last two projects), so it isn’t a reach to wonder if the protest is to bring attention to the leak, because I didn’t know another track had leaked until Shayne told me so. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I suppose.
So here’s the question: given the circumstance, would you check out the leak, or would you leave it alone? I promise that I will share which way I went with it, but I’d like to see some of the feedback first.
I have had a bit of a block on blogging the past week or so, and it has been compounded by the end of my toughest semester yet in school. In talking with Mike at Pop Trash Addicts the other day, Laura Branigan came up. (It’s Mike…that’s how he rolls.) Instantly, I had a flashback to 1984, and a junior high field trip to some American Revolution battleground (no clue which one) where we spent most of the day on a school bus. Of course, the music was the most memorable part of the trip.
To give you perspective on how obsessed I was with pop music at the time, I had snagged a small tape recorder meant for dictation and recorded songs from the radio on to it. That tape player accompanied me on my trip, with a single earbud that I listened to a grainy radio recording of my favorite songs at the time. Among those songs was Branigan’s “Self Control”, which ended up peaking at #4 later that year. While I am a bit foggy on the other music, I can give you a good list of what was definitely peaking my interests at the moment:
-Dan Hartman “I Can Dream Without You” – Good grief, I LOVED this song. If it is possible that there is an audio gaydar, I pretty much nailed it with Dan, especially since his “Instant Replay” is one of my favorite disco songs as well. Mom loved this track as well, and it began a long string of me bringing her songs that I knew she would love.
-Sheila E “The Glamorous Life” – In 1984, I was all about all things Prince, including proteges. Sheila E was the first one to really make an impact, with “Glamorous”, “Belle of St Mark”, and “Toy Box”, which wasn’t a single, but sure got a lot of play on my local college station. The video for “Glamorous” is nowhere to be found on YouTube, but here’s a super-secret live version.
-Peabo Bryson “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again” – Songs like “Glamorous Life” hold up well, but others don’t do so hot, and that’s the case for me with “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again”. I remember loving the chord change toward the end of the song, and the power of the delivery. It’s still a good song, but it just doesn’t seem to have the impact that it used to.
-Cory Hart “Sunglasses At Night” – I know he had other hits, but Cory Hart will always be “Sunglasses”, despite his moving performance as a runaway in “Never Surrender”. You never do forget your first time, though, do you? (The original is blocked from embedding, but I found a remix that I really like)
In my never-ending obsession with how the music business is attempting to re-invent itself, I came across this article about Jin-Young Park, who has been playing this game for several years now over in Korea. Right off the bat, the guy grabbed my attention with this truth:
“In meetings with music labels here (in the U.S.), they talk to me about releasing albums,” says Park. “They can’t accept that there’s no such thing anymore. Where I come from, CDs are nothing—they’re just souvenirs. I tell them, ‘Wake up!'”
Sound familiar? An interesting statistic: in 2000, South Korea already had 14% of music sales coming from downloads, and last year, that number rose to 84%. Granted, South Korea has 80% of households with broadband, and the population became accustomed to downloads and texts much sooner than Americans, but this may be the direction of where the business is going.
Speaking of reworking the model, Prince is releasing three CDs on his own next year: two of his own, and one of a new artist. From the Billboard article:
A “major retailer” is in talks with the artist to release the music physically, while a new Prince Web site will sell it in digital form.
The two new Prince albums are the tentatively titled “MPLSOUND” and “Lotus Flower.” He was also heavily involved in an album titled “Elixir” from his protege, Bria Valente. “We got sick of waiting for Sade to make a new album,” he said of that project.
Prince has been on the cutting edge of this movement, and industry folk will be watching these releases with much interest. This is the same guy who was selling his music online five years ago, including CD sales with tour tickets four years ago, and giving away “Planet Earth” with the Mail On Sunday two years ago. His current model works: we’ve seen the Eagles and AC/DC limit their distribution to their own website and one major retailer, and the results have been in the millions of units. The big question, however, is how much demand there really is for new music by Prince in the first place. I’m guessing not nearly as much as for the Eagles and AC/DC.
One of the more humorous websites that I visit on occasion is prince.org. Not because of His Royal Purpleness, but because of the forum members and their diverse taste. I came across this post which documented some white boy beef:
“I’ve never been on the cover of VIBE, but I don’t think that that is a good thing to really point out. It’s like damn, who are you to say that you deserve the cover? That’s kind of pompous to me. Just fall back and do what you do and don’t complain. You’ve been blessed.”
– Jon B on Robin Thicke’s complaint for not making the VIBE cover.
“Listen man, you have your career and I have mine. If it came down to a battle situation, where we were piano to piano, vocals to vocals, and he really wanted to test skills on some wild competitive type of stuff we could make it happen.” – Jon B on a battle with Thicke.
“I paved the way for a lot of white artists now that don’t have to deal with the stigma of being a white artist. I don’t think that people would be as open for non-African American artists like that if it I didn’t take a lot of the slack for them.” – Jon B on originally holding it down for white Soul artists.
Now THAT is some funny stuff. For those of you not familiar with Jon B, he’s a pretty talented R&B singer from the late 90s/early 00s who got his start under Babyface’s guidance. They actually did a record together called “Someone To Love”, and you couldn’t even tell their voices apart at times on that record. Jon went on to have 6 R&B and 3 Pop Top 40 hits, and even scored 2 Top 40 hits in the U.K. with “They Don’t Know” and “Don’t Talk”. He’s been out of the spotlight for a few years, but has a new album coming out on Tuesday called “Helpless Romantic”. First single “Ooh So Sexy” with Paul Wall recently debuted on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks.
I won’t lie…I’ve always thought that Jon’s image was a bit contrived. He plays the urban card a little too hard sometimes, and I’ve often wondered if it hurt the way he was perceived, or how seriously he was taken. Then again, that was 10 years ago. Robin Thicke has been able to do his thing, and there is NO question that he’s a white boy. Coming from another soulful white boy, I can say that.
Although he’s probably going for some publicity here, Jon brings up a good point. Robin’s really only had one “hit” album under his belt, with “The Evolution of Robin Thicke”. The new record, “Something Else”, has done alright, but it remains to be seen whether it will have the longevity of “Evolution”. So based on one arguably amazing CD, does he really deserve the cover of an industry standard like VIBE? Hard to say, but once you get pegged with the “arrogant” tag, it’s tough to get rid of it.
I debated whether this was worth a whole entry, and then I came across a clip of a new song from another white boy that many of you might might be interested in, so that gave me some extra incentive. The leak from Mr Timberlake is called “Magic”, and I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be an actual single, with Mr Thicke having had a #1 R&B hit with a song of the same title just a couple of months ago. I suppose it gives you a taste of what he’s working on, though. That, and it’s also another good reason to post a picture of Shayne Ward, who is in the process of selling his soul to the devil to take over Justin’s musical career.