RIP Olivia Newton-John

I’m really sad about the passing of Olivia Newton-John, from cancer at the age of 73. I was a teenager when I first learned about the British-Australian singer back in 1971 when she released her lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”. The song became her first charting single in the U.S., peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. I really liked her delicate vocal style and thought she was beautiful, even developing a bit of a teenage crush. A couple of years would pass before she had another hit, with “Let Me Be There”, and as she continued to release more singles, including her beautiful 1974 ballad “I Honestly Love You”, I became a big fan of hers. On the strength of that song, which became her first #1 hit, I bought her 1974 album If You Love Me, Let Me Know (which I just learned was a compilation album released only in the U.S. and Canada).

Looking back on her extensive and impressive discography spanning a time frame of over 40 years – including 26 studio albums, six live albums, 14 compilations, six soundtracks, and 70 singles – some of it I really loved, while some of it I thought was just okay. But there’s no denying the impact she made on popular music from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Fifteen of her singles made the top 10, with five – “I Honestly Love You”, “Have You Never Been Mellow”, “You’re the One That I Want”, “Magic” and “Physical” – reaching #1. Though “Physical” was her biggest hit of them all, spending 10 weeks at #1 and ranking as Billboard‘s Top Hot 100 Single of the 1980s, it’s not among my favorite Olivia Newton-John songs.

Here are my top five favorite songs of hers:

  1. Magic (1980) – A brilliant, mesmerizing song from the mediocre film Xanadu

2. I Honestly Love You (1974) – The beautiful piano, strings and strummed guitar, accompanied by Newton-John’s breathy vocals, are marvelous.

3. You’re The One That I Want” (1978) – Exuberant & fun duet with John Travolta for the film musical Grease

4. Hopelessly Devoted to You (1978) – An emotionally-wrought love song with a bit of a Country flavor, written for Newton-John for the film version of Grease

5. Sam (1977) – I love the gorgeous sweeping orchestration and her vibrant vocals, and this song should have been a bigger hit (only peaked at #20)

She was a beautiful woman with a beautiful soul, and a long-time advocate for environmental and animal rights causes. She was also instrumental in raising funds to help build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. May the light and joy she gave throughout her life live on in her memory.

Top 30 Songs for August 7-13, 2022

I’m thrilled to place Lizzo‘s infectious feel-good single “About Damn Time” at #1 on my latest Weekly Top 30. I love a good dance song, and with its funky bass-driven groove, “About Damn Time” fits the bill quite nicely. From her fourth album Special, it’s her first song to top my chart, and her second to top the Billboard Hot 100. Born Melissa Jefferson in Detroit, the 34-year-old singer has already had an interesting life. After moving with her family to Houston when she was 10, Lizzo began studying the flute with renowned music teacher Claudia Momen. She also started rapping in her early teens, and formed a musical group called Cornrow Clique with her friends, at which time she acquired the nickname “Lizzo”. After graduating from high school, she studied classical music with a concentration on flute at the University of Houston, but by 21, was living out of her car for a year while trying to break into the music industry. She released two studio albums, Lizzobangers in 2013 and Big Grrrl Small World in 2015, but neither charted. Lizzo finally achieved breakthrough success in 2019 with her single “Truth Hurts” after it was featured in the Netflix film Someone Great. The song became a viral sleeper hit, reaching #1 two years after its initial release. Lizzo’s life-long struggles with her weight have led her to become a fearless advocate for body positivity and self-love.

In other chart highlights, “Closer” by The Frontier and “The Funeral” by YUNGBLUD, hold at #3 and #4, and “Mistakes” by Sharon Van Etten climbs four spots to #5. Entering the top 10 are “Until I Found You” by Stephen Sanchez, which jumps six spots to #6, “Broken Record” by NAVE, up seven spots to #9, and “SUPERMODEL” by Måneskin, which leaps 10 spots to #10.

I wanted to add at least six new songs to my chart this week, but had room for only these three, each of which could not be more different from one another: “BREAK MY SOUL” by Beyoncé, “What’s the Trick?” by Jack White, and “Please Write Responsibly” by British artist Granfalloon, the music project of talented singer-songwriter Richard Lomax, making his first appearance on my chart.

  1. ABOUT DAMN TIME – Lizzo (2)
  2. UNCONDITIONAL I (LOOKOUT KID) – Arcade Fire (1)
  3. CLOSER – The Frontier (3)
  5. MISTAKES – Sharon Van Etten (9)
  6. UNTIL I FOUND YOU – Stephen Sanchez (12)
  7. SYNCHRONIZE – Milky Chance (7)
  8. IN THE MIRROR – The Interrupters (8)
  10. SUPERMODEL – Måneskin (20)
  11. WARNING SIGNS – Band of Horses (10)
  12. SEVENTEEN GOING UNDER – Sam Fender (5)
  13. A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE – Weezer (6)
  15. DESPERATELY WANTING – The Star Crumbles (17)
  16. LIN MANUEL – Onism E (18)
  17. BONES – Imagine Dragons (22)
  18. TELL ME THE TRUTH – Two Feet (11)
  19. AS IT WAS – Harry Styles (14)
  20. LEMON TREE – Mt. Joy (24)
  21. TEK IT – Cafuné (25)
  22. GREY – Holy Coves (23)
  23. BELIEVE – Caamp (13)
  24. VIVA LAS VENGEANCE – Panic! At the Disco (28)
  25. THE FOUNDATIONS OF DECAY – My Chemical Romance (15)
  26. SIDELINES – Phoebe Bridgers (30)
  27. COMPLIANCE – Muse (29)
  28. BREAK MY SOUL – Beyoncé (N)
  29. WHAT’S THE TRICK? – Jack White (N)
  30. PLEASE WRITE RESPONSIBLY – Granfalloon (N)

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 30 – “Brighter Days” by Jamie Alimorad

Photo by Mikhail Goldenberg

Well, I’ve reached the end of my 30-day Song Challenge, and the subject for Day 30 is “A song that gives you hope“. There have been many wonderful songs of hope and inspiration released over the years, but I’ve chosen a more recent song, “Brighter Days” by Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Jamie Alimorad. Jamie is a talented, hard-working and charismatic guy who I’ve been following for about three years, and I’ve written about him twice, most recently this past January when I reviewed his marvelous single “Give a Little Lovin'”. “Brighter Days” is taken from his excellent 2019 album This Is Tomorrow Calling, which I also reviewed.

The song has a breezy, upbeat groove and an infectious dance beat, with a bit of a country-rock vibe thanks to twangy guitars and some great vocal harmonies. Jamie has a terrific singing voice, and does a fine job conveying his earnest message of not letting our problems and worries overwhelm or defeat us, and trying to remain positive in the belief that things will get better. A phrase in one of the lyrics is used for the album’s title, and really encapsulates its overall theme of love and resilience. “When living’s hard and you think you’re better off dead, this is tomorrow calling, there are brighter days ahead.”

The walls are closing in
It's getting hard to breathe
Thinking of cashing in my chips
Don't have an ace up my sleeve
But I hear a little voice inside me say
Before I go and throw it all away

When it rains it pours
Such as the weatherman said
This is tomorrow calling
There are brighter days ahead
When living's hard
And you think you're better off dead
This is tomorrow calling
There are brighter days ahead

I look at my reflection
All I see are broken dreams
But I hear a voice say look a little deeper
It ain't what it seems

There's a light behind a house full of scars
Crack the shell and find out who you really are
When it rains it pours
Such as the weatherman said
This is tomorrow calling
There are brighter days ahead
When living's hard
And you think you're better off dead
This is tomorrow calling
There are brighter days ahead

In the darkness there's a heaviness that ways me down
I moan like a rescue dog in the lost and found
No one in this stormy world to turn to
Except for that little voice like a patch of blue

When it rains it pours
Such as the weatherman said
This is tomorrow calling
There are brighter days ahead
When living's hard
And you think you're better off dead
This is tomorrow calling
There are brighter days ahead

The video for “Brighter Days” was filmed as a live performance and mini-documentary at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of The Darkness Walk in Santa Monica on October 19, 2019. More than 2,200 people and 200 teams participated in the walk.

To learn more about Jamie, visit his Website
Connect with him on:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon 

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 29 – “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt

The subject for Day 29 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song that breaks your heart“, and there are few songs I can think of that are more heartbreaking than “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by the legendary Bonnie Raitt. Aside from the death of a loved one or a beloved pet, unrequited love is probably one of life’s most painful experiences. Many of us – me included – have been in romantic situations where someone we loved did not feel the same toward us, and vice versa. And sometimes, our guilt from the pain we’ve caused by not loving someone who loves us can feel almost as bad as not having our love returned by another.

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” was co-written by Nashville country music songwriters Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, who took many months and numerous rewrites until they were happy with the song. In an interview with Peter Cooper for the Nashville Tennessean, Shamblin remarked: “We wrote, most every week, in Mike’s basement, and we’d worked on this song for more than six months. One day, he said, ‘Come up to the living room,’ where his piano was. He sat down and started playing this melody, and it was one of the most moving pieces of music I’d heard. I mean, it hit me in a hard way … Instantly, I knew it was the best thing I’d ever been a part of.”

They originally wrote the song as a fast, bluegrass number, but upon slowing the tempo down considerably, they realized the song became even more powerful and compelling. They had three artists in mind for the song – Bonnie Raitt, Bette Midler and Linda Ronstadt – with Raitt eventually winning out. She recorded the song for her eleventh studio album Luck of the Draw (1991), with both song and album co-produced by Raitt and record producer Don Was. She recorded the vocal in just one take, later saying that the song was so sad that she could not recapture the emotion: “We’d try to do it again and I just said, ‘You know, this ain’t going to happen.‘” (Wikipedia)

Over a sparse soundscape of gentle instrumentals, highlighted by a beautiful piano accompaniment by Bruce Hornsby, Raitt sings of the heartache of unrequited love with a sad, understated resignation, while maintaining her own self respect.

Turn down the lights
Turn down the bed
Turn down these voices inside my head
Lay down with me
Tell me no lies
Just hold me close, don't patronize
Don't patronize me

'Cause I can't make you love me if you don't
You can't make your heart feel something it won't
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I'll feel the power
But you won't, no you won't
'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't

I'll close my eyes, then I won't see
The love you don't feel when you're holding me
Morning will come and I'll do what's right
Just give me till then to give up this fight
And I will give up this fight

'Cause I can't make you love me if you don't
You can't make your heart feel something it won't
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I'll feel the power
But you won't, no you won't
'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't

The song was a fairly big hit for Raitt, reaching #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It also reached #4 on Canada’s Adult Contemporary chart.

And here’s her stunning performance of the song, with Bruce Hornsby on piano, at the 1992 Grammy Awards

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 28 – “The Less I Know the Better” by Tame Impala

Interest in my 30-day song challenge seems to be waning, as the number of views and likes have generally declined over time, but I’ll press on to the end. The subject for Day 28 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song that makes you want to fall in love“. There’ve been hundreds, if not thousands, of love songs released over the years, for love has long been the primary subject of many a song. Some of the great – or at least most popular – love songs include “At Last” by Etta James, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley, “She Loves You” by the Beatles, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” with versions by Marvin Gaye, Jr. Walker & the All Stars, and James Taylor, “Crazy For You” by Madonna, “Lovesong” by The Cure, “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton and later Whitney Houston, “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis, “Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, to name but a few.

But the song that really makes me want to fall in love is “The Less I Know the Better” by Tame Impala. As I wrote in my article ranking the song at #25 on my Top 100 Songs of the 2010s, “the achingly beautiful song about young lust and love makes me wish I was 18 again, and is so fucking gorgeous it stirs the hopeless romantic in me, bringing a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat every time I hear it.” Despite the wrenching emotional roller-coaster ride of anxiety, longing and potential heartache, there’s nothing else in life that compares to the thrill of falling in love with someone new and exciting. I love this song so much I can listen to it on an endless replay loop.

The lyrics express a guy’s intense longing for a girl he can’t have, which Tame Impala front man Kevin Parker so beautifully expresses with his enthralling vocals:

Someone said they left together
I ran out the door to get her
She was holding hands with Trevor
Not the greatest feeling ever
Said, “Pull yourself together
You should try your luck with Heather”
Then I heard they slept together
Oh, the less I know the better
The less I know the better

Oh my love, can’t you see yourself by my side
No surprise when you’re on his shoulder like every night
Oh my love, can’t you see that you’re on my mind
Don’t suppose you could convince your lover to change his mind
So goodbye

She said, “It’s not now or never
Wait 10 years, we’ll be together”
I said, “Better late than never
Just don’t make me wait forever”
Don’t make me wait forever
Don’t make me wait forever

Oh my love, can’t you see yourself by my side?
I don’t suppose you could convince your lover to change his mind

I was doing fine without ya
‘Til I saw your face, now I can’t erase
Giving in to all his bullshit
Is this what you want, is this who you are?
I was doing fine without ya
‘Til I saw your eyes turn away from mine
Oh, sweet darling, where he wants you
Said, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line”
Said, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line”
Said, “Come on Superman, say your stupid line”

The entertaining official video brings the song to life with an imaginative and humorous blend of romance, surrealism and colorful animation. It shows a high school basketball player lusting after a cheerleader, who soon begins a relationship with the team’s gorilla mascot named “Trevor”, who’s referenced in the lyrics. The video was filmed in Barcelona at the visual arts collective CANADA, and the two primary characters are played by Spanish actors Laia Manzanares as the cheerleader and Albert Baro as the basketball player.

Rather ridiculously, the video has been age-restricted by YouTube due to a couple of provocative scenes, so click on the “Watch on YouTube” link to watch it.

Or, just listen to the song in this audio only video:

30 Day Song Challenge, Day 27 – “The Drop” by David Oakes

The subject for Day 27 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song by an instrumental artist“, and once again, the possible choices are immense. Musicians and composers have been creating instrumental music since the dawn of time I suppose, with classical music, followed by jazz, being the two most widespread forms of instrumental music composed up until the beginning of the so-called ‘rock era’ in the mid 1950s. After that, instrumental music created by more mainstream artists became popular, and from the mid 1950s through early 1980s, scores of singles like “Tequila”, “Sleep Walk”, “The Theme from ‘A Summer Place'”, “Green Onions”, “Stranger on the Shore”, “Love is Blue”, “Classical Gas”, “Grazin’ in the Grass”, “Frankenstein”, “Love’s Theme”, “T.S.O.P.” and “Chariots of Fire” became huge hits. Why instrumental songs failed to become hits after that has been a subject of debate, which I won’t delve further into here, other than to say that I think it’s unfortunate.

That said, there are still lots of musicians and artists out there who are creating some great instrumental music, and I’ve featured many of them on this blog over the years. One of my favorites, and also the very first I wrote about as a new blogger way back in March 2016, is David Oakes. Born in England and now living in Wales, he’s an imaginative and prolific musician and composer of electronic alternative rock music, ranging from gentle synth-driven compositions to aggressive guitar-driven hard rock, and everything in between. I really like his music, and have written about quite a lot of it (you can read some of those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post).

David’s been actively involved in making music since his late teens, when he started playing in various bands. From 2001-06, he and his younger brother were members of the rock band KOTOW, for which he played drums. He went on to study guitar and music theory at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildord, England from 2009-12, after which he started composing and recording music as a solo artist. Since 2012, he’s released an astonishing 10 albums! One of his non-album singles is “The Drop“, which I’ve chosen for my latest song challenge.

It’s an intense song, with a strong chugging bass line overlain with gritty staccato guitar and relentless pummeling drumbeats, highlighted by some tasty melodic riffs of metal guitar riffs. As with all his music, David played all the instruments, and recorded, produced and mixed the track.

The equally intense, horror-film like video, produced by Dark Fable Media, shows David playing the song on his guitar in the woods, where he encounters a man in a frightful-looking mask. The masked man attacks him, whereupon they struggle until David stabs him and runs off. The story seems to be a kind of nightmare, as all three men shown in the video are the same guy, stuck in a disturbing time loop. The entire video is filmed in black and white, with the only color shown being the red blood on the knife and the stabbed man’s hands.

Here’s David’s latest release Ten Years A Dave, featuring what he feels are his ten best tracks over the past ten years, including “The Drop”.

Stream/purchase David’s music on SpotifyApple MusicBandcamp