Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Song #4

A music countdown of any kind would never be complete without a song from the King himself, Elvis.  And a Valentine’s Day list of great love songs would never be complete without his 1961 hit  “Can’t Help Falling In Love“.

Written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore & George David Weiss, the song hit #2 on the Pop chart & #1 on the Easy Listening chart for six weeks.  It was featured in the movie “Blue Hawaii” and the soundtrack went on to spend 20 weeks in the #1 spot on the Albums Chart.

I cannot imagine anyone, male or female, who is not captivated by Elvis’ delivery of such beautiful and heartfelt lyrics:

“Take my hand
take my whole life too
For I can’t help
falling in love with you”

This song was Elvis’ finale for the last decade of his career, but my guess is women swooned as much then as they did during the early days of his hip shaking career.  One listen to this or any Elvis song for that matter and you understand why there was no one like Elvis Aaron Presley and there never will be.

He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 by Julian and Sean Lennon.  This year would have marked the King’s 80th birthday and even though he has been gone almost 40 years, you can still celebrate his legacy by taking a pilgrimage to Graceland.

I had the exquisite pleasure of hearing Bruce Springsteen perform this song as one of his encores, and it was phenomenal.  Of course Bruce’s voice is nothing like Elvis’ but then again who’s is?  But Springsteen gave the song all the passion he had , which made his performance simply gorgeous.  It was especially poignant for me as I sat there in the crowd thinking, “I am watching my musical idol sing a song by my mother’s musical idol.  Too cool.”

If only she could have been there with me to enjoy it in person.  Sigh.

Enjoy!!!

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Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Songs at #5 (Yes, it’s another tie!!!)

What do you get when you combine a Gershwin tune with the First Lady of Song?  You get an event, a magnificent moment in music.  You get “Someone To Watch Over Me” by Ella Fitzgerald.

Her 1950 version of George & Ira Gershwin’s 1926 song is arguably the most famous version of the song despite having been covered by the likes Sinatra, Garland, Vaughn and Clooney.  Fitzgerald earned her accolades as the “Queen of Jazz” & “Lady Ella” for the beauty, sophistication and three octave range of her voice.

I love how cosmopolitan the lyrics are:

“…I like to add his initial to my monogram…I know I could be always be good
To one who’ll watch over me…

Won’t you tell him please to put on some speed,
follow my lead,
Oh, how I need
someone to watch over me.”

This is how Fitzgerald’s website describes her:  “Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra.”  She was also one of the greatest singers this world will ever see.

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When Something is Wrong With My Baby” by the duo of Sam (Moore) & Dave (Prater) is the other song we celebrate in the #5 spot.

Written by Isaac Hayes (“Shaft”) & David Porter, with music performed by Booker T & the MG’s and released by Stax Records (the label who amongst their many accomplishments, introduced the world to soul legend Otis Redding), this song had way too much going for it not to be a hit-#2 on the R&B chart in 1967.

It has the hallmarks of an unbelievably great song:  fantastic composition, sublime passionate vocal, incredible brass accompaniment, exquisite delivery (Dave Prater was a great singer, but on this song he was just phenomenal) and simply beautiful lyrics:

“When something is wrong with my baby
Something is wrong with me
And if I know she’s worried
Then I would feel that same misery

We’ve been through, so much together
We stand as one and that’s what makes it better
When something is wrong with my baby
Something is wrong with me, now listen

Just what she means to me now
Oh, you just wouldn’t, you just wouldn’t understand
People can say, she’s no good
But oh, she’s my woman and I know I’m her man

And if she’s got a problem, oh
I know, I know, I know, I gotta help her solve them
When something is wrong with my baby, 
Something is wrong with me”

Talk about being in it together…..or is it just another case of enabling behavior???  However you look at it, this song did not leave you wondering if this man loved his woman.  You knew it because his delivery made you feel it.  And that is what makes a song great.

Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville recorded a version of this song in 1990 that hit #5 on the Pop chart.

Enjoy!!!

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Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Song #6…..& A Happy Anniversary

Before we get to the countdown, let’s take a moment to recognize a happy anniversary-and one of the most important events to occur in music history.

On February  9, 1964 the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  They performed “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You”, “She Loves You” “I Saw Her Standing There” & “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.

Sunday nights, not to mention music itself, was never ever the same again.

For those of you lucky enough to have witnessed the performance the night it took place, you were part of history in the making plus you had a front row seat to the start of the British Invasion.

BONUS:  Congratulations to George Harrison who was honored with a Lifetime Achievements Award for his work as a solo artist at the Grammy Awards last night.

My #6 pick in the countdown is “A Song For You” by Ray Charles written by Leon Russell.

I never thought I could choose from the genius that is Charles.  After all, this is the man who took “America The Beautiful;” and made it seem as if it were written for only him.

Perhaps what made it easy to narrow down was the beautiful marriage of Charles’ voice with simplistic beauty of Russell’s lyrics:

“You taught me precious secrets
Of a true love, withholding nothing
You came out in front and I was hiding
Now I’m so much better
And if my words don’t come together
Listen to the melody
Cause my love is in there hiding

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for my life
You’ re a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you”

This song earned Charles the 12th Grammy Award of his illustrious career in the category for Best Male R & B Performance in 1994.  There is nothing I can write about Ray Charles that has not already been written except that the world became a sadder place when we lost his voice in 2004.  He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame in 1986 by one of his closest friends, Quincy Jones.  Here’s one of my favorite songs the two did together, with a little help from Chaka Khan.

Enjoy!!!

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Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Songs @ #7 & My Grammy Boycott

There are two songs tied for the #7 spot on the countdown, so we will look at them individually.  The first one comes from a man who is considered by some as not only the inventor of soul music, but the genre’s most distinctive voice as well:  Sam Cooke with “You Send Me“.

This song, penned by Cooke but credited to his brother LC Cook to keep record executives from taking the profits, hit #1 in December 1957,  ending Elvis Presley’s 7 week run in the top spot with “Jailhouse Rock”.

Crooning is what Cooke does throughout this song, using his smooth sophisticated voice’s range to lure the listener into his story of how his feelings came to be (and he even uses the M word):

“At first I thought it was infatuation
But oh, it’s lasted so long
Now I find myself wanting
To marry you and take you home

Cooke’s roots began in gospel music, but with the success of this song he became fully emerged in secular music. Then he used what he learned to help some other singers crossover from the gospel genre as well, including Lou Rawls who returned the favor by singing on Cooke’s song “Bring It On Home To Me“.

Singing, songwriting and producing records were not the only parts of the business Cooke was interested in. He was one of the first performers to take both artistic & financial control of his career and eventually started his own publishing company and record label.  He also has the distinction of writing a song that went on to become an anthem for the Civil Rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come“.  It has been covered by both black and white artists from Otis Redding, Al Green, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan, who inspired Cooke with his song  “Blowin’ In The Wind“.

1964 started on a somber note with the country still mourning the assassination of President Kennedy.  Unfortunately, the year also ended the same way as the country mourned Cooke’s tragic death on Dec 11 at the age of 33 after being shot at a Los Angeles motel.  His murder was eventually ruled a justifiable homicide.  The events of that night have been revisited several times over the last five decades to bring his friends and family a better understanding as to what actually transpired the night Cooke was shot.  Whatever it was does not change the outcome because there was nothing justifiable about the loss of this soul music renegade.  It was a heartbreaking ending to a stellar career.

Sam Cooke was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at its first ceremony in 1986 and Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him 4th on its list of the “100 Greatest Singers”.  His music has been featured in several movies over the years, but is most recognizable from “Animal House” (who can forget John Belushi’s character Bluto eating his way down the cafeteria line to “(What A) Wonderful World“) and “Innerspace” (Martin Short & Dennis Quaid dancing to “Twistin’ The Night Away“).

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The other song sharing the #7 spot on the countdown is by a man referred to as one of the greatest singers of all time, and I cannot express it any better than that.  The singer is Van “The Man” Morrison with his song “Have I Told You Lately“.

If you cannot tell, I love words, and this song has some of the most beautiful ones ever set to music:

“Fill my heart with gladness
take away my sadness
ease my troubles
that’s what you do”

“You fill my heart with laughter
Somehow, you make it better
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do”

“There’s a love that’s divine
and it’s yours and it’s mine
and it shines like the sun”

Just stunning.  And the music and delivery are perfect, too completing the holy trinity hallmarks of a great song.

Even Rod Stewart became choked up with emotion and when he sang his cover of the song on “MTV’s Unplugged” in 1993.

There really is not a genre of music Morrison has not explored with his voice, and that coupled with his immense talent has influenced performers like the Counting Crows, Bob Seger, U2, Bruce Springsteen and The Band.  In fact, that was a bit of a mutual admiration thing as evidenced by Morrison’s part in their swan song movie, “The Last Waltz“.   My favorite performance of his in that movie?  Caravan.

It was one of the members of The Band, guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson, who inducted Morrison into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.  In his induction speech, Robertson said of Morrison:  “…in the tradition of the great Irish poets and the great soul singers, he is the Caruso of rock and roll”.  Compliments do not get much better than that.  And Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Morrison 24th  on its list of the “100 Greatest Singers”.

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SIDE BAR:  Today is the 2015 Grammy Awards and for the first time in more than three decades I will neither be watching the show nor saving it to my DVR.  The only performances I would want to see from the broadcast are Hozier’s with Annie Lennox or Tony Bennett’s, but I can just look them up on YouTube tomorrow.

But I am happy to see super-talented singer/songwriter/musician Ryan Adams up for best rock song (“Gimme Something Good”) and Best Rock Album (for his self-titled release).  Tom Petty and U2 are also nominated in the latter category but I do not think either of them will be there to accept if they win, if that award is even broadcast.

Same holds true for the Best American Roots Performance, which is usually announced before the telecast.  Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal are nominated for their collaboration on “Statesboro Blues”, from “All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman”.  Keb’ Mo’ Featuring The California Feetwarmers is nominated in the same category for “The Old Me Better” from the album “BluesAmericana”, which is also up for Best Americana Album.

“Twenty Feet From Stardom” is nominated for Best Music Film, and if you like music, this is a must see.  If you never saw “Standing In The Shadows of Motown” either, add that to your Netflix queue NOW.  The history and performances are way too good to miss.

I do like Sam Smith-this decade’s Rick Ashley-who is up for a slew of awards including Record, Song & Album of the Year, but not enough to sit through the boring list of  performers (and speaking of boring, weren’t we all just forced to sit through a not-very-surprised-because-she-is-mostly-over-hyped-anyway lackluster Katy Perry half-time show?)  Shouldn’t she just limit her involvement tonight to presenter only?

Let’s make it a rule-rather, a law-that a bubble gum pop princess who is too busy with her make up commercials to learn how to sing well should only be allowed to play one event per month.  Same rule should apply to anything-but-reality people and hosts (yes, Adam Levine, this includes you and your face stubble.  Don Johnson called and said it’s over, move on already!!!).

I am actually refusing to watch this year (read:  BOYCOTT) because the industry is continuing to change for the worse. Between Miley Cyrus even being nominated (and for her entire album no less-UGH) to that irritating trite Meghan Trainor “Bass” song (that will be part of a new Big Mouth Billy Bass singing fish in the not so distant future, I guarantee it.  How they got the rights to All Shook Up, Don’t Be Cruel, Take Me To The River in the past is beyond me).

I am a music purist so for me the rules are simple:  If you make bad music PLEASE STOP NOW before someone gets hurt (do you hear me Miley, Meghan, Gwen, Katy, Maroon 5 and the Black Eyed Peas, whether as a group or individually, for starters).  If you make good music please don’t sell out to hear it in a TV commercial.  It demeans us all.  I do not want nor do I expect to hear decent music used in commercials with the exception of car ads.  Those seem to leave the songs virtually intact with some redeeming qualities to them.

A good example from this year:  Bobby Day & the Satellites’ “Beep Beep Beep” used in a Kia Sorento spot.  Some bad examples:  The Who’s “I’m Free” in a local cable commercial ad & the Kinks selling yogurt with “All Day & All Of The Night”. The worst use of a phenomenal song to sell ANYTHING:  The Allman Brothers’ exquisite “Midnight Rider” as part of the Geico campaign (one more reason why I want to punch that dippy little gecko in his slithery neck!!!).

But to be honest, the biggest reason why I will not watch the Grammy Awards is because I prefer to remember Sir Paul McCartney, a freaking Beatle for God’s sake, the way he was…….when he had judgement.  That obviously is gone given his choice to collaborate with that no talent ego-maniacal hack, Kanye West (or did West kidnap McCartney and torture him until he said Uncle?  That would make this easier to swallow, not to mention understandable).

Whatever possessed Sir Paul to even appear at the same award show as West is belittling enough to us Beatles fans, but actually working with that irredeemably talent-less brat is so over the line it has now been eradicated.  I did not think anything could top the colossal lack of judgement U2 showed several years back when they decided to let no talent No Doubt open for them for a leg of the tour.  I am still wearing black and taking mood stabilizers from that debacle.  But this Sir Paul misstep may require me to go on a 72 hour suicide watch with round the clock doses of ECT treatments.

But it does make me profoundly sad that the longest tradition of my life is coming to an end after 30+ years.  Music is so important to me & continues to be that it is a part of me, like a dear old friend.  I have looked forward to the Grammy Awards ever since I was a kid.  I loved getting the chance to finally see my favorite singers on TV (as this was the pre-music video & pre-internet age-yes, I know I am old!!!) and the outfits they wore, what collaborations they would participate in and what songs they would perform.

My favorite Grammy moment ever?  Aretha Franklin’s performance of “Nessun Dorma” in 1998.  Unbelievably gorgeous. Some of my favorite collaborations (“London Calling”  with Bruce Springsteen & friends; “The A-Team” by Ed Sheeran & Elton John; “Across The Universe” introduced by the sinfully gorgeous Anthony Lapaglia) and salutes to some of those who died (Solomon Burke, Warren Zevon &  Levon Helm’s tributes).

Here’s to hoping the 2016 Grammy Awards are something worth tuning in for.

Enjoy!!!

Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Song #8

The next song on my countdown is another duet (like song #14) but this one features a female/male collaboration by two of rock music’s most notable voices.  My pick at #8, a song which reached #6 on the Hot 100 Chart in 1982, is “Leather & Lace“.

The song was written by legendary singer/songwriter/Fleetwood Mac band member Stevie Nicks who recorded it with one of her old flames, Don Henley of the Eagles.  Nicks originally wrote the song for country superstar Waylon Jennings and his wife Jesse Colter’s 1981 album.  Despite naming it after the song, the husband & wife duo ended up leaving it off the record (I know, right???).

So Nicks added it to her debut solo album, “Bella Donna”, which was released the same year.  The song was the second single after “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around“, another duet recorded with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

“Leather & Lace” is like many of Nicks’ songs:  well written and well performed.  But the biggest appeal of it for me is how grown up and unschmaltzy the lyrics  are.  I love how direct they are, and how in their beautiful honesty you hear the story of love between adults, first from the perspective of the strong self-assured woman:

“I have my own life and I am stronger
Than you know
But I carry this feeling
When you walked into my house
That you won’t be walking out the door”

To the open and honest standpoint of the male putting it out there without fear of being shot down or belittled (OK yes, it is written by a woman but come on, Ladies, which one of us would not melt if a man ever said (or sang) these words to us):

“And you were right
When I walked into your house
I knew I’d never want to leave
Sometimes I’m a strong man
Sometimes cold and scared
And sometimes I cry”

To both parties acknowledging their desires and differences not as obstacles, but rather as things to be shared:

“I need you to love me
I need you today
Give to me your leather
Take from me my lace”

If there was ever a song perfect enough to celebrate that all important moment when a couple crosses over from “we” to “us”, I believe it is this one.

Enjoy!!!

BONUS:  If you want a good laugh, check out Will Ferrell and Dave Grohl’s version here.

TRIVIA:  Do you know what happened 51 years ago today?  The Beatles arrived in America for the first time.

Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Song #9

Song #9, like #10 before it, is also a soulful upbeat love song, but this one has the distinction of actually being the #1 hit song on Valentine’s Day in 1972.  It is “Let’s Stay Together” by another one of my all time favorite soul singers, Al Green. 

I had the honor of seeing Green in concert almost a decade ago, and he is every bit the phenomenal performer live that he is on TV when he is blowing the roof off of the Ed Sullivan Theatre during one of his numerous yearly performances on “The Late Show With David Letterman” (just one more reason to be despondent over Letterman’s impending retirement). 

Green’s remarkable voice exudes the exquisite beauty and polish of Sam Cooke, the passion and raw emotion of Otis Redding and the power and sophistication of Jackie Wilson all rolled into one.  Add to that equation one of the most sublime falsetto voices ever heard and there you have the genius of this utterly superb performer.   

He wrote the lyrics to “Let’s Stay Together” and the music was written by Al Jackson, Jr. (drummer for Booker T & the MG’s) and producer Willie Mitchell.  The words are so simple, yet so powerful and direct.   I do not know about Green’s mindset today, but when he wrote these lyrics he clearly was a man devoid of any intimacy issues:

“Let me say that since, baby, since we’ve been together
  Loving you forever is what I need
  Oh let me be the one you come running to

   I’ll never be untrue”………Simply beautiful.

Rolling Stone ranked this song #60 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.   In 1995 Green was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Natalie Cole.

In 1976 he became a reverend and nearly every Sunday he can be found giving the sermon at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, TN. The services are open to the public and even though I have seen Green live, seeing him at the pulpit of his own church is on my bucket list.

Enjoy!!!

Valentine’s Day Music Countdown: Song #10

The next song on my list is dedicated to my mother who was a big fan of the singer in the #10 spot on my countdown.  His dance moves on stage earned him the nickname “Mr. Excitement” by some and “the black Elvis” by others. But make no mistake:  This man had a voice like no one else before or after him.  The singer?  Jackie Wilson.  The song?  “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher”.

Reaching #6 on the charts in 1967 & written by Gary Jackson and Carl Smith, rumor has it that Wilson recorded the vocal track for this song in one take.  If that is true, it is an incredible testament to his magnificent voice and talent.  He had an astonishing 47 R&B hit songs from 1958 to 1973.  They ran the gamut from ballads to dance tunes to true soul numbers. He was so popular overseas in 1963 that the Beatles opened for one of Wilson’s shows.

“Higher & Higher” is as close to perfect as a song gets, from its perfectly delivered lyrics, to its great impossible-to-sit-still-to-so-get-up-and-move beat, to the incredibly pristine horn arrangements, to the fantastic bass line, to the polish of the entire production. There are not too many love songs like this one, probably because there are not too many performers like Wilson.

His exuberant stage performances were copied by the likes of James Brown, Michael Jackson and Bruno Mars, to name a few.  But no matter how great his dance moves were, nothing compared with the range, power, intensity and considerable passion of Wilson’s voice.

Sadly, that voice was silenced in 1984 when Wilson was just 49 years old.  He became incapacitated after suffering a heart attack on stage in 1975 and spent his remaining years in a nursing home.  As was unfortunately common practice in the early days of Rock & Roll, Wilson died virtually penniless due to the machinations of his record company and manager.  The end of Wilson’s story is one of the saddest in music history.

He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band.

Notable covers of “Higher & Higher” have been done by Dolly Parton, Rita Coolidge, and Rod Stewart.  But my favorite cover is by one of my heroes (and future husband, if God is listening), Bruce Springsteen.  He started playing this song live with more and more frequency in the last decade, usually as one of his encores.  He and the E Street Band gave it everything they had in this clip from one of their shows in 2009.

Enjoy!!!