EML’s Favorite Albums – JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: “Surrealistic Pillow”

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Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane was one of the earliest albums I remember buying as a teenager growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the band was based. I’d loved their two hit songs “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, but when I heard the album in its entirety at a friend’s house when it was played by her older sister, I was immediately smitten. I loved every song on the album, and had to have my own copy.  To this day, it remains one of my top 10 all-time favorite albums, and I still cherish my copy, now more than 50 years old. I also think it’s one of the best album covers ever!

Originally formed in 1965, Jefferson Airplane became one of the pioneering bands of psychedelic rock, and came to define what was then called the ‘San Francisco Sound’. They released their debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in 1966 to critical acclaim and decent sales, eventually enough to have it certified gold. It’s a very good album, with songs that were more folk-rock oriented, and inspired by the music of bands like the Beatles, the Byrds and the Lovin’ Spoonful. A turning point in the band’s sound came after the departure of their original female vocalist Signe Anderson in October 1966, who wanted to devote more time to raising her baby daughter. She was replaced by Grace Slick, who’d previously been with the band The Great Society. In addition, founding drummer Skip Spence had earlier been replaced by Spencer Dryden. This new Jefferson Airplane lineup, which would last until early 1970, now consisted of Marty Balin (vocals), Grace Slick (vocals), Paul Kantner (guitar, vocals), Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Jack Casady (bass) and Spencer Dryden (drums).

Slick’s joining the band proved pivotal to the Airplane’s commercial breakthrough, as her wonderful resonant contralto voice nicely complemented Balin’s beautiful tenor voice, and was well-suited to the band’s increasingly amplified psychedelic sound. In addition, being a former model, her good looks and on-stage charisma greatly enhanced the band’s live performances. She also contributed two of what would become the band’s signature songs – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, both of which she originally recorded while with The Great Society (Slick wrote “White Rabbit” and her brother-in-law Darby Slick wrote “Somebody to Love”).

Surrealistic Pillow was recorded in Los Angeles under the guidance of producer Rick Jarrard in only 13 days, at a cost of $8,000. According to Wikipedia, the title “Surrealistic Pillow” was suggested by the album’s “shadow producer” Jerry Garcia, when he commented that the album sounded “as surrealistic as a pillow is soft.” Although the band’s label RCA would not acknowledge Garcia’s considerable contributions to the album’s production, he is listed in the album’s credits as “spiritual advisor.” The album was released in February 1967, and remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for more than a year, peaking at No. 3. Rolling Stone Magazine has ranked the album at #146 on their list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

OK, enough with the background information. Let’s get to the album. It kicks off with the rousing “She Drives Funny Cars”, and what a great opening track it is. The first sounds we hear are Dryden’s aggressive galloping drumbeats, which are soon joined by Kaukonen’s and Kantner’s dual guitars, and we’re off to the races. Their intertwining psychedelic riffs are incredible, and so is Casady’s powerful bass line. Balin sings lead vocals here, with Slick nicely crooning in the background. Before we can catch our breath, we’re hit with Slick’s verbal assault of “When the truth is found to be lies”, and for the next two minutes and 55 seconds the masterpiece “Somebody to Love” unfolds, pulling us willingly into its maelstrom of explosive psychedelic greatness. The guitar work on this track is positively wicked! The song became Jefferson Airplane’s highest-charting single.

“My Best Friend” was written by former drummer Spence, and is a pleasing folk-rock song with a Lovin’ Spoonful vibe that would have been at home on their first album. Balin and Slick’s vocal harmonies are particularly nice. Next up is the haunting Balin-Kantner penned love ballad “Today”, with gorgeous jangly and chiming guitars and featuring Balin’s fervent vocals, enveloped by a dramatic percussion-heavy wall of sound that would make Phil Spector proud. “Comin’ Back to Me” is a beautiful mellow ballad with strummed acoustic and electric guitars, some of which were reportedly played by Jerry Garcia. Highlights of the song are the haunting flute and Balin’s stunning heartfelt vocals.

As we continue with the album, it’s clear that every single track is outstanding, and that the band had an incredibly diverse and wide-ranging sound. The hard-driving psychedelic guitars on “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” are fantastic and gnarly as hell, showcasing the band’s ability to deliver down and dirty blues rock. They seem to channel the Byrds on the breezy gem “D.C.B.A.-25”, with glorious jangly guitars and more of Balin and Slick’s gorgeous vocal harmonies. The song has a different feel from most of the others on the album, but is one of my favorites. “How Do You Feel” is a nod to the Mamas and Papas, with its pleasing melody, beautiful harmonies and more of those beguiling flutes. And then we have the stunning instrumental “Embryonic Journey”, featuring a tour de force acoustic guitar solo performance by Kaukonen of a song he wrote.

Next up is my personal favorite Jefferson Airplane song “White Rabbit”. Slick has stated she wrote the song as a slap to parents who read their children novels like Alice in Wonderland, then wonder why their children later used drugs. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, she mentioned that besides Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was “the bolero used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1960 album Sketches of Spain,” which was itself inspired by the famous classical composition “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. It’s the buildup to the crescendo that makes both “Bolero” and “White Rabbit” so wonderful. Here’s a performance of the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967.

The album closes with the bluesy “Plastic Fantastic Lover”, with more of those wonderful psychedelic guitars, accompanied by the kind of powerful head-bopping beat I love. It’s a fantastic finish to an album I consider a masterpiece. Although Jefferson Airplane would go on to release several more albums before splitting up in 1972 and going their separate ways with other music projects, none would match the phenomenal success of Surrealistic Pillow.

The album was later re-released with five bonus tracks not on the original 1967 release.

 

EML’s Favorite Songs – SPENCER DAVIS GROUP: ” Gimme Some Lovin'”

Gimme Some Lovin' - LP

One of the most electrifying rock songs ever recorded has to be “Gimme Some Lovin‘” by British band Spencer Davis Group. After reading a recent post by fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead about Blind Faith, the short-lived supergroup of which Spencer Davis Group vocalist Steve Winwood was also a member, it reminded me of what an amazing talent he was, especially at such a young age. As a pre-teen who was only six years younger than Steve Winwood – he was 18 when he co-wrote and recorded “Gimme Some Lovin'”, I was blown away by his incredibly powerful and soulful vocals when I first heard the song back in late 1966.

Spencer Davis Group was formed in Birmingham, England in 1963, and consisted of Spencer Davis (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), brothers Steve Winwood (lead guitar, lead vocals, organ, piano) and Muff Winwood (bass) and Pete York (drums & percussion). Steve Winwood was only 14 at the time! They had two #1 singles in the UK with “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me”, but their latest single “When I Come Home” had not performed well. Also, none of their singles up to that point had charted in the U.S. The band was under pressure to come up with another hit single but weren’t happy with songs submitted by Jackie Edwards, who’d written their previous singles. Finally, their manager Chris Blackwell took them to London, put them in a rehearsal room, and ordered them to come up with a new song. As quoted in the liner notes by John Bell for the 2-CD Island Records 1996 release Eight Gigs A Week: The Spencer David Group – The Steve Winwood Years, Muff Winwood recalled that “Gimme Some Lovin'” was conceived, arranged, and rehearsed in just half an hour. He elaborated about the song’s creation:

We started to mess about with riffs, and it must have been eleven o’clock in the morning. We hadn’t been there half an hour, and this idea just came. We thought, bloody hell, this sounds really good. We fitted it all together and by about twelve o’clock, we had the whole song. Steve had been singing ‘Gimme, gimme some loving’ – you know, just yelling anything, so we decided to call it that. We worked out the middle eight and then went to a cafe that’s still on the corner down the road. Blackwell came to see how we were going on, to find our equipment set up and us not there, and he storms into the cafe, absolutely screaming, ‘How can you do this?’ he screams. Don’t worry, we said. We were all really confident. We took him back, and said, how’s this for half an hour’s work, and we knocked off ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ and he couldn’t believe it. We cut it the following day and everything about it worked. That very night we played a North London club and tried it out on the public. It went down a storm. We knew we had another No. 1.

Well, they created quite an explosive banger of a tune! Opening with a heavy bass riff and ominously building percussion, Steve Winwood’s wailing organ arrives like an angry velociraptor, followed by his fiery, impassioned vocals that instantly cover me with goosebumps. The feral hunger in his vocals make us believe him when he practically screams “I’m so glad we made it, I’m so glad we made it! You’ve gotta gimme some lovin’!” From that point on, that sonic velociraptor rampages onward, laying waste to the airwaves and our eardrums. God, what a song!

“Gimme Some Lovin'” finally brought the Spencer Davis Group long-elusive success in the U.S. The song peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their highest-charting U.S. single (should have been #1). It reached #2 in UK, and is ranked #247 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It certainly ranks highly among my 500 favorite songs of all time.

In 1980, The Blues Brothers, who consisted of Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi, did a pretty good cover of “Gimme Some Lovin'”. The song was featured in their film The Blues Brothers, and was a sizable hit, reaching #18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

EML’s Favorite Albums – COLDPLAY: “A Rush of Blood to the Head”

Coldplay A Rush of Blood to the Head

I distinctly remember the first time I heard British band Coldplay’s magnificent song “Clocks” on the radio in the spring of 2003. Though they’d already released a number of singles over the previous three years or so, I had not yet heard any of them because I listened to crappy radio stations in St. Louis, where I lived at the time. I was blown away by the song and immediately fell in love with it’s haunting piano melody. Given my love for “Clocks”, I rushed out (pun intended) and purchased their CD A Rush of Blood to the Head. It was their second studio album, and is my personal favorite of all their albums. I also became a big fan of Coldplay, who to this day rank among my top ten favorite bands of all time (the Beatles, Stones and Fleetwood Mac will forever be my top three, but I digress). The band is comprised of four underrated musicians: front man and lead vocalist Chris Martin, guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman, and drummer Will Champion.

After the popularity and success of their first album Parachutes, the band was under tremendous pressure to deliver an album at least as good – something all artists and bands with successful debut albums have experienced. I’ve heard many say they liked Coldplay’s early music (“Yellow” from Parachutes is one of their most beloved songs), but don’t much care for their later stuff, which they claim sounds too polished, too over-produced, too sappy or too ‘pop’. A Rush of Blood to the Head, with its piano and guitar-driven sound, is generally considered more acceptable to those earlier fans.

The album was released on August 26, 2002 in the UK, debuting at #1, and a day later on August 27 (my birthday) in the U.S. Besides topping the chart in the UK (where it would become the 10th best-selling album of the 21st Century), the album also reached #1 in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. It won three Grammy Awards (one of them for “Clocks”, for 2003 Record of the Year), and the 2003 BRIT Award for Best British album.

Though every song on the album is excellent, there are a number of standouts, the two greatest being “Clocks” and “The Scientist”. With its repetitive piano progression, including a descending scale in the chord progression that creates such a hauntingly beautiful sound, “Clocks” is considered one of Coldplay’s finest achievements. That breathtaking piano melody is accompanied by a somewhat minimalist atmospheric soundscape of synths, guitar, bass and drums, yet the whole thing sounds incredibly powerful and compelling. The lyrics are rather ambiguous, but seem to address the conflicts of being in a relationship that causes pain, yet you cannot or do not want to escape it. Martin begins by singing about his situation: “The lights go out and I can’t be saved / Tides that I tried to swim against / You’ve put me down upon my knees / Oh, I beg, I beg and plead.” Then he ponders “Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?“, finally concluding “And nothing else compares / You are home, home, where I wanted to go.”

I think it’s a masterpiece, and one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and it boggles my mind that it wasn’t a bigger hit (it only peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100, though it did reach #1 on the Adult Alternative chart). It’s my favorite song of the 2000s, and my fourth favorite song of all time. Surprisingly, “Clocks” was originally not intended for inclusion on A Rush of Blood to the Head. The band planned to use it on their third album, however, their manager Phil Harvey strongly pushed for its inclusion.

“The Scientist” is a gorgeous love song of apology, and another of Coldplay’s most beloved songs. The track starts off with just a melancholy piano riff and Martin’s sad vocals, then eventually a strummed acoustic guitar enters, followed by drums, bass and finally Buckland’s electric guitar. In an interview with VH1, Martin stated: “The song was a turning point. I don’t think we’ll ever top it. It was inspired by George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. We really wanted to do a piano ballad with loud guitars at the end, because we didn’t think many people had tried that, so Jon put this really distorted guitar on the end of it.” Well, I think it’s another masterpiece, and most definitely one of the band’s finest songs.

Though Coldplay has never been known for writing many political songs, they were inspired to write “Politik” a few days after the 9/11 attacks. The song touches on the then-current state of the world, where whole countries and religions were being vilified over the horrific actions of a relative few. Martin implores people to seek the truth and see the bigger picture: “Give me real, don’t give me fake / Give me strength, reserve, control / Give me heart and give me soul / Open up your eyes.” They decided to make “Politik” the first track on the album, and its bombastic opening consisting of an aggressive, banging piano riff and crashing cymbals all but demand that we pay attention.

The beautiful “In My Place” was the first song they wrote after finishing Parachutes, and the first single released from A Rush of Blood to the Head. Buckland’s gorgeous chiming guitar is a highlight of the song. Another favorite of mine is “A Whisper”, with its dramatic chord progressions, glittery synths and spectacular guitar work, especially the shimmery chiming guitar run in the final chorus. The title track “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is a darkly beautiful song about wanting to undo all one’s wrongs and start over anew: “He said I’m gonna buy this place and watch it fall / Stand here beside me baby in the crumbling walls / Said I’m gonna buy a gun and start a war / If you can tell me something worth fighting for / Blame it upon a rush of blood to the head.”

Some songs on the album have a pleasing guitar-driven folk-rock feel, namely “God Put a Smile on Your Face”, “Green Eyes” and “Warning Sign”. Closing out the album is the lovely and introspective piano ballad “Amsterdam”. Like a few of their other songs, the instrumentals build as the track progresses into a dramatic crescendo in the final chorus, before fading out at the end, a right proper finish to a phenomenal album.

I finally saw Coldplay perform live on their Head Full of Dreams Tour in August 2016, at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Though it was a huge venue, with over 70,000 people in attendance, they still managed to make it feel intimate.

EML’s Favorite Songs – THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH: “Smiling Faces Sometimes”

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As a teenager back in the late 1960s to mid 1970s, I was madly in love with soul and R&B music (still am, actually), and among my favorite songs from those years is “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by The Undisputed Truth. Written by the renown Motown songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it’s a dramatic psychedelic soul song about phony, back-stabbing people who do their friends wrong behind their backs. The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, but was a huge #1 hit in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I lived at the time.

Beginning in the mid 1960s, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong helped turn Motown into a veritable hit machine. Along with Smokey Robinson and the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, Whitfield and Strong were instrumental in the creation of what was referred to as “The Motown Sound”, as well as the late-1960s subgenre of psychedelic soul. They were one of the principal songwriters for the Temptations, penning such hits as “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “War”, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”, as well as the brilliant “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, which was a monster #1 hit for both Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye.

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” was first recorded by the Temptations as a 12:43-minute-long opus that was included on their 1971 album Sky’s the Limit. An edited version of the song was to be released as a 45 single, but was scrapped when one of the track’s co-vocalists Eddie Kendricks left the Temptations for a solo career in April 1971. Undaunted, Whitfield quickly turned to another psychedelic soul group he’d created known as The Undisputed Truth, and had them record the song, which was released that May. Whitfield liked to record dramatically different versions of the same song with different Motown artists (see “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”), so having The Undisputed Truth record “Smiling Faces Sometimes” was a no-brainer. He later had the Temptations record The Undisputed Truth song “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, which became a #1 hit for them.

Whitfield created The Undisputed Truth in 1970 to further explore his interest in producing more songs in his psychedelic soul format, but also partly in response to fan criticism that he was using the Temptations as his personal plaything. The Undisputed Truth consisted of Joe Harris, Billie Calvin and Brenda Evans, all seasoned vocalists who’d previously worked with other soul and R&B acts.

It’s a darkly beautiful song with a sophisticated, yet menacing vibe thanks to a brilliant arrangement and stunning instrumentation. The track opens with what sounds like an abrupt horn blast, quickly followed by a deep bass line, wobbly guitar notes and a brief flourish of cinematic strings. Then, a rattle-based beat kicks in, nicely conveying mental images of a rattlesnake lurking in the shadows, which is alluded to in the lyric “beware of the handshake that hides the snake”. The intricate psychedelic guitar work is really fantastic, as are the jazzy horns and soaring strings, while that continuous rattling percussion keeps the eerie vibes alive. I love that all three band members share vocals, giving the song a fuller, more exciting sound. Their urgent, soulful vocals are perfect as they warn of the evil lurking behind our backs. I love this song. 

Smiling faces sometimes
Pretend to be your friend
Smiling faces show no traces
Of the evil that lurks within
(Can you dig it)

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof
Oh lord, yeah

Let me tell ya, the truth is in the eyes
Cause the eyes don’t lie, amen
Remember a smile is just a frown turned upside down
My friend, so hear me when I’m sayin’

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

Beware, beware of the handshake
That hides the snake
(Can you dig it, can you dig it)
I’m a-telling you beware
Beware of the pat on the back
It just might hold you back
Jealousy (jealousy)
Misery (misery)
Envy, I tell you, you can’t see behind

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
Hey, they don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

And your enemy won’t do you no harm
‘Cause you’ll know where he’s coming from
Don’t let the handshake and the smile fool ya
Take my advice I’m only tryin’ to school ya

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 13: COLD WAR KIDS – “Complainer”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song that describes you”. Self-reflection can often be a difficult thing to do, but sadly, I have to go with the song “Complainer” by L.A. alt-rock band Cold War Kids. While some of the lyrics don’t exactly describe me or my personality, the title absolutely does. All my life, I’ve been a glass half-empty pessimist and malcontent. I bitch, whine or moan about at least one thing or another on a daily basis, driving those around me nuts for as long as I can remember. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is. On the plus side, three things that keep me from being a complete asshole are my inherent kindness, empathy and sense of humor.

Getting back to the music, I’m a big fan of Cold War Kids. My favorite songs from them are “First”, “Love is Mystical”, “So Tied Up” and “Miracle Mile”, and I also love their cover of Rihanna’s “Love On the Brain”.

 

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 12: THE BEATLES – “She Loves You”

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Today’s Song of the Day Challenge theme is “A song from your childhood” and my pick is “She Loves You” by The Beatles. It ranks among their greatest songs, and is one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs.

Anyone who was a kid or teenager in the early to mid 1960s remembers the first time they heard a song by The Beatles. They started out playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany in 1960, and in October 1962, their first single “Love Me Do” was released in the UK. “She Loves You” was released in the UK in August 1963, where it became the best-selling single of 1963, and remains to this day the top-selling Beatles single ever in the UK.

Because of contract disputes with their American label Vee-Jay Records, “She Loves You” ended up being released in the U.S. by Swan Records in September 1963. Shockingly, it sold only around 1,000 copies and failed to chart. But after the meteoric success of the Capitol Records release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” launched the so-called “British Invasion” of the American music scene at the end of 1963, “She Loves You” finally entered the Billboard chart in late January 1964, and spent four weeks at #2 behind “I Want to Hold Your Hand” before replacing it at #1 that March.

It’s such a joyful and exhilarating song that resonates with young and old alike. The lyrics are from the perspective of a go-between, who tells a friend that his estranged girlfriend still loves him, and that he needs to apologize to make things right with her:

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

You think you’ve lost your love
Well, I saw her yesterday
It’s you she’s thinking of
And she told me what to say

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad

She said you hurt her so
She almost lost her mind
But now she says she knows
You’re not the hurting kind

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
And with a love like that
You know you should be glad

You know it’s up to you
I think it’s only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her

Because she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
With a love like that
You know you should be glad
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 11: JUDY GARLAND – “The Man That Got Away”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song you wish you could witness live”, and my pick is “The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland. Specifically, it’s her performance of the classic torch song at her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall on April 23, 1961, which many called “the greatest night in show business history”. Truth be told, I would like to have seen her perform any one of a number of her iconic songs at that show, but choose “The Man That Got Away” because of the incredible sense of vulnerability and heartbreak she conveys in her powerfully raw performance that really tears me up. By 1961, Garland had endured many difficulties, heartaches and setbacks in her life and career, and this show was a personal and professional triumph for her.

Judy Garland had a deep and resonant vocal style in the contralto range, characterized by a tremulous, powerful vibralto. Her voice was unparalleled, and in my opinion, she was one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th Century. In a piece he wrote for Turner Classic Movies, biographer Jonathan Riggs commented that Garland had a tendency to imbue her vocals with a seemingly contradictory combination of fragility and resilience that eventually became a signature trademark of hers. “Those who saw her perform live spoke of the experience in almost mystical terms, especially a comeback performance captured on the Grammy-winning Judy at Carnegie Hall, widely considered the greatest night in show business history. Literally giving her life for her art, Garland poured her soul out in every song, achieving immortality of the highest order and recognition as one of the greatest entertainers of all time.”

The recording from that show, which featured a full orchestra conducted by Mort Lindsey, was released as a two-record album Judy at Carnegie Hall in July 1961. The album became a best seller, spending 73 weeks on the Billboard album chart, 13 of them at #1. It won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Engineered Album, and Best Album Cover, and has never gone out of print  since its release 59 years ago! In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. (Wikipedia)

Here’s a famous scene from the 1954 version of A Star is Born where an awestruck Norman Maine, played by James Mason, watches Judy as Esther Blodgett perform the song at an after-hours club:

Song of the Day Challenge – Day 10: ABSOFACTO – “Lemon Drop”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s been stuck in your head”, and my pick is the delightful “Lemon Drop” by Absofacto. I love the song, which is currently in the midst of a long run on my Weekly Top 30.

Absofacto is the solo project of singer/songwriter and musician Jonathan Visger. He’s been making music for over 15 years, first as a member of Michigan-based indie rock band Mason Proper, and later as a solo artist, and recently scored his first breakthrough hit with his captivating single “Dissolve”. A sleeper hit, the song was originally released in 2015, but went nowhere. In 2017, he signed with Atlantic Records and released his EP Thousand Peaces. “Dissolve” was included on the EP, then re-released as a single in 2018, but once again failed to gain traction, which is hard to believe as it’s such a great song.

Absofacto

In 2019, the song received renewed interest due to a meme on the music and video-sharing app TikTok, and became a surprise hit. It debuted on the Billboard Alternative chart in June 2019, and after a long, steady climb, reached #1 in January 2020. Absofacto followed up with the single “Rewind” in November 2019, then in March 2020, dropped “Lemon Drop”, along with another song “Python”.

On his Facebook account, Absofacto describes his music as “warped cloud odd dream beat / bubblejam / idyllicrunk / spacebass / twilight zoneout / wavewave“, which pretty well paints an accurate and colorful picture of his cool, synthpop sound. “Lemon Drop” is one of his best tracks, with a breezy, uptempo vibe and infectious dance beat. He uses lots of sweet and spacey synths to create a dreamy, atmospheric soundscape for his soft, breathy vocals. They have an ethereal, yet seductive quality that makes them utterly enchanting as he sings to a loved one of his ardor. It’s a fresh and modern take on the age-old subject of romance.

Blond camaro, gold leaf, yellow lemon drop
You’re my one and only, just the way you are
Wanna see the world from the front seat of your car
Tell me you ain’t far, tell me you ain’t far 

Follow Absofacto: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Song of the Day Challenge Day 9: PRINCE – “Baby, I’m a Star”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that makes you dance”, and no song commands that I get up on my feet and shake my tail feathers more than “Baby, I’m a Star” by Prince. The song is from his monumental and groundbreaking soundtrack album for his film Purple Rain. Prince originally composed and demoed the song in December 1981, but the version included on Purple Rain was re-recorded with his band The Revolution in August 1983 at a live performance in Minneapolis. Prince later reworked the live recording in the studio, adding overdubs and other refinements to get the track to his liking.

The song is a joyously upbeat dance anthem about pop stardom, and its lyrics describe Prince’s status as a rising star when he wrote it in late 1981: “You might not know it now, baby, but I are — I’m a star. I don’t wanna stop ’til I reach the top.” Starting with a propulsive drumbeat, Prince layered exuberant synthesizers to simulate a horn section, along with funky guitar and driving bass to create a deliriously electrifying groove that aims for the hips and sends us straight to the dance floor. I think it’s one of the hottest dance tunes ever!

Something I never knew until reading about this song was that the opening barely audible and unintelligible lyrics sung by a woman are actually these played backwards:

Like, what the fuck do they know?
All their taste is in their mouth
Really, what the fuck do they know?
Come on, baby
Let’s go crazy!

Song of the Day Challenge Day 8: KESHA – “Tik Tok”

Song A Day Challenge

Today’s Song of the Day Challenge is “A song that’s a guilty pleasure”, and my pick is “Tik Tok” by Kesha (who also identified herself as Ke$ha back then). The catchy ear worm was co-written by Kesha and producers Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco, and released in August 2009. It took its time moving up the charts, but once it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that December, it held the top spot for nine straight weeks. It also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, Germany and 10 other countries.

I love the bouncy, electropop dance beat and hilarious bawdy lyrics about partying, getting drunk and having fun. (Ah, how I fondly remember those days!) Kesha later told Esquire that her inspiration for the song came from her own experiences coming home drunk and stumbling after a night out of partying. The opening line “Wake up in the morning feelin’ like P. Diddy” came from a time where she woke up in a big house (on Laurel Canyon in L.A. where the Eagles recorded “Hotel California”) surrounded by all these “beautiful women”, which led her to imagine P. Diddy being in a similar scenario. And he was more than happy to collaborate on the track, providing his vocals where he responds to her opening line with “hey what up girl“. Kesha’s vocals were heavily auto-tuned, but I think they’re perfectly suited for a song like “Tik Tok”.

On a weird level, the song also touches on female empowerment. In the lyrics “And now the dudes are linin’ up ’cause they hear we got swagger / But we kick ’em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger” and later “Boys try to touch my junk, junk / Gonna smack him if he gettin’ too drunk, drunk“, Kesha makes it clear that she and her girls have the upper hand when it comes to guys, and that they’re not gonna give it up to just anyone. OK, I know it’s a stretch, but work with me here!