EML’s Favorite Songs – “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield

One of my favorite songs from the 1980s is “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield. Released the day after Christmas in 1987 as the second single from the Pet Shop Boys’ second album Actually, it’s my favorite track of 1988. On the strength of “West End Girls”, their first chart single in the U.S., and my favorite song of 1986, British synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys (consisting of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) became one of my favorite acts of the late 1980s. And who doesn’t love the legendary Dusty Springfield?

“What Have I Done to Deserve This?” was written in late 1984 by Tennant and Lowe, with help from American songwriter Allee Willis (who co-wrote the Earth, Wind & Fire hit “Boogie Wonderland” with Jon Lind). It was originally intended for inclusion on the Pet Shop Boys’ first album Please (which includes “West End Girls”, “Opportunities” and ‘Love Comes Quickly”), but they couldn’t come up with a female vocalist suitable to sing the other half of the duet. Various popular singers of that time period were suggested to them, including Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand, but none seemed suitable for the song. Tennant and Lowe wanted a woman whose voice suggested both experience and vulnerability, warmth but also a tough, independent attitude.

Their manager’s assistant eventually suggested Dusty Springfield, whose 1969 album Dusty in Memphis was a favorite of Tennant’s. But EMI did not want her, believing her career had been in decline for too long and that she would not bring anything of value to the song. Tennant insisted that they choose Springfield, but after reaching out to her with a demo of the song, she turned them down. She had no idea who the Pet Shop Boys were, and wasn’t interested in singing a duet with them, so the song was left off Please. Many months later, Springfield heard “West End Girls” on the radio and liked it so much that she reconsidered. She was living in California at the time, so flew to London in December 1986 to record the song. In an interview for The Sunday Times, Tennant later recalled the vocal session with Springfield:

She arrived at the studio on time, in a black leather designer jacket and high-heeled boots, with blonde hair and black eye make-up, clutching the lyric-sheet of the song, annotated and underlined. Chris Lowe, Stephen Hague and I began to consult with the living legend about how to sing our song and she was very nice, surprisingly a little lacking in self-confidence. As if by telepathy, a Dusty fan appeared on the studio doorstep and was invited in to listen. Dusty’s English secretary arrived, bearing a new compilation cassette. ‘They keep repackaging the old songs,’ the legend marveled. Then she went through to sing. Her voice was the same as ever. When she sang her solo part Since you went away everyone in the control room smiled. She sounded just like she used to. Breathy, warm, thrilling. Like Dusty Springfield. ‘Is that the sort of thing you want?’ she asked.

Though the song has a bouncy, upbeat vibe with exuberant synthesized orchestral instrumentation, the bittersweet lyrics describe a dialogue between two adults in the aftermath of their acrimonious breakup. Each of them wistfully observes that they should be happy to now be free of each other, yet wonder how they’ll move forward without them. Tennant rap/sings with resentment from the male point of view: “I bought you drinks, I brought you flowers. I read you books and talked for hours. Every day, so many drinks, such pretty flowers, so tell me what have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

Springfield then responds with feelings of regret and second thoughts: “Since you went away, I’ve been hanging around. I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down. You went away, it should make me feel better. But I don’t know, oh how I’m gonna get through?/ We don’t have to fall apart, we don’t have to fight. We don’t need to go to hell and back every night. We can make a deal.” Their wonderful vocals complement each other’s so beautifully, particularly when they harmonize.

It’s a marvelous song, and peaked at #2 in both the U.S., where it was kept from the top of the Billboard chart by Exposé’s “Seasons Change” and fellow British singer George Michael’s “Father Figure”, and the UK, where it was held back by Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. It’s also Dusty Springfield’s highest-charting single, and would help revitalize her career by introducing her to a new generation of listeners.

The official video for the song barely features Dusty Springfield at all, so I’ve instead chosen their live performance at the 1988 BRIT Awards. Unfortunately, they lip sync the song, which was still typical for that time period.

And here’s the song on Spotify:

EML’s Favorite Songs – “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire

One of my favorite songs of the 1970s is the enchanting and soulful “That’s the Way of the World” by Earth, Wind & Fire. The song was the title track from their magnificent sixth studio album That’s the Way of the World, released in March 1975. I loved the entire album, and had it on repeat that summer when I also experienced my first significant love affair.

Named for band founder and front man Maurice White’s astrological sign of Sagittarius (which has a primary elemental quality of fire and seasonal qualities of earth and air), Earth, Wind & Fire was formed in Chicago in 1969. White had formerly been a session drummer for Chess Records, as well as a member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio. He eventually moved the band to Los Angeles, where it grew to include as many as nine members.

Their extensive lineup underwent numerous changes over the years, but some of the notable members have included Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Larry Dunn, Al McKay, Roland Bautista, Robert Brookins, Sonny Emory, Fred Ravel, Ronnie Laws, Sheldon Reynolds and Andrew Woolfolk. They’re known for their exotic kalimba sound (characterized by the Mbira, a family of traditional musical instruments of the Shona people of Zimbabwe), exuberant horn section, elaborate stage shows, and the dynamic contrast between Philip Bailey’s falsetto and Maurice White’s baritone vocals.

Their first five albums each met with successively greater success, and two of the singles, “Mighty Mighty” and “Devotion”, from their fifth album Open Our Eyes cracked the Billboard Top 40. But it was “Shining Star”, the lead single from That’s the Way of the World, that would be their breakout hit, going all the way to #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts. The song also won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but I digress…

“That’s the Way of the World” was the second track from the album to be released as a single, in June 1975. It reached #5 on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart, but only #12 on the Hot 100, which I always thought was a travesty, as the song is so phenomenal. I used to compile my own Weekly Top 10 back then, and it was a #1 hit as far as I was concerned. To this day, it remains my favorite of Earth, Wind & Fire’s many great songs.

It’s a beautiful and uplifting song of love, hope and optimism, but with a darker undercurrent touching on how racism and intolerance can corrupt an innocent child. The serene R&B melody is sublime, and I love the jazzy horns, lovely keyboards and funky guitars. And, as always, the dual vocal harmonies of Maurice White and Philip Bailey are fabulous.

Hearts of fire creates love desire
Take you high and higher to the world you belong
Hearts of fire creates love desire
High and higher to your place on the throne

We've come together on this special day
To sing our message loud and clear
Looking back we've touched on sorrowful days
Future, past, they disappear

You will find (you will find) peace of mind (yeah yeah)
If you look way down in your heart and soul
I don't hesitate 'cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart 'cause you're never old at heart

That's the way of the world
Plant your flower and you grow a pearl
Child is born with a heart of gold
The way of the world makes his heart so cold

On their 2004 version of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Rolling Stone ranked “That’s the Way of the World” at #329, however, the song was dropped altogether on their revised list that just came out on the 15th of this month (a list with which I have many issues). Surprisingly, the inferior (to me) and grossly overplayed “September” ranks at #65 on the more recent list. But it’s their most popular and most-streamed song by far, so what do I know?

One thing I learned in researching for this write-up is that the album That’s the Way of the World was initially written as a soundtrack for a film of the same name that was produced and directed by Sig Shore, who also produced the 1972 film Super Fly.  The film starred Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, and Earth, Wind & Fire as “The Group”. Keitel played a record producer who hears The Group performing and is impressed by their act. The band was convinced the film would be a flop (which it was), and decided to release the soundtrack prior to the film’s premier. It turned out to be a smart move, as while the film bombed, the album became a huge hit.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by The Walker Brothers

1966 is arguably one of the greatest years in the history of recorded music, and one of the many standout songs that year was The Walker Brothers’ gorgeous “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”. Even though I was only 11 years old when the song came out, I loved it, and it still has the power to cover me with chills 55 years later. The magnificent cinematic arrangement and orchestration, combined with Scott Walker’s achingly beautiful baritone vocals, make it one of the most dramatically compelling songs of its time. The lyrics speak to feelings of desolation and loneliness after a break-up.

Is a cloak you wear
A deep shade of blue
Is always there

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love, baby

Is a place you’re in
With nothing to lose
But no more to win

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore
The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The tears are always clouding your eyes
When you’re without love

Without you baby
Girl I need you
I can’t go on

The song was originally written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio for fellow Four Seasons band member Frankie Valli, who’s solo 1965 recording of it failed to chart. The Walker Brothers recorded their version the following January, and that spring the song went all the way to #1 in the UK and #2 in Canada, but only peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although American by birth, The Walker Brothers relocated to England in 1965, where they became much more successful and popular than they were in the U.S.

Interestingly, The Walker Brothers were not brothers, nor were any of them born with the name Walker. John Walker was born John Joseph Maus, but began using the surname Walker in his teens, while Scott Walker was born Noel Scott Engel, and Gary Walker was born Gary Leeds. John and Scott originally formed The Walker Brothers Trio in Los Angeles in 1964, along with Al “Tiny” Schneider, with John on guitars and lead vocals, Scott on bass and backing harmonies, and Al on drums.

Later that year, they met Gary Leeds, who’d played drums with The Standells from 1962-64, and eventually replaced Al Schneider on drums. They changed their name to simply The Walker Brothers, and eventually both Scott and Gary took the surname Walker as well. Leeds, along with the help of Rolling Stones band member Brian Jones, persuaded his bandmates to consider relocating to England, where their early rock and roll and blues style would go down well in “swinging London”. (Wikipedia)

Once in London, they signed a recording contract with Philips Records, whereupon Philips producer and A&R man Johnny Franz began refashioning their sound from upbeat R&B to more dramatic pop ballads similar to those of The Righteous Brothers (another brother act who weren’t really brothers). With this new direction, Scott Walker become the group’s de facto frontman and lead vocalist, as his distinct baritone was better suited to their new sound. Under Franz’ direction, and with full ‘wall of sound’ orchestral arrangements by Ivor Raymonde and performed by session musicians, The Walker Brothers scored their first #1 hit in the UK in 1965 with their cover of “Make It Easy on Yourself,” a Burt Bacharach and Hal David ballad originally recorded by Jerry Butler. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” would be their second and final song to top the UK charts, as well as chart on the Billboard Top 40.

They continued to have more chart hits in the UK through 1967, but with diminishing commercial success as pop continued to evolve, making their music sound dated. They also had to leave the UK for six months in 1967 because of work permit problems, which didn’t help. By the end of 1967, the pressures of stardom, internal tensions and ‘artistic differences’ had taken their toll, and The Walker Brothers officially disbanded in 1968. All three members continued to release solo records, however, in late 1974 all three agreed to reform The Walker Brothers, and in 1975, they released the album No Regrets, followed by two more albums Lines and Nite Flights, which were less commercially successful. They drifted apart for good by the end of 1978. The three went on with their individual music careers, with Scott having the most success by far. He’s been cited as an influence by many British recording artists, including David Bowie and Radiohead. John passed away in 2011 and Scott in 2019.

“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” has come to be considered The Walker Brothers’ signature song, as well as an important song of the so-called Rock Era. NME ranked it at No. 357 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Pitchfork ranked it at No. 187 on its list of The 200 Best Songs of the 1960s, and it is listed in the 2010 book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “California Dreamin'” by The Mamas & the Papas

One of my favorite songs of all time is “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas (it ranks #3 behind Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and the long version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire”). It’s also unquestionably one of the most perfect songs ever recorded. Everything about it is magical: the simple but emotionally compelling lyrics, stellar arrangement, captivating instrumentals – most notably the haunting flute in the song’s bridge, and the gorgeous call and response vocal harmonies of the four band members – John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott. Literally everyone I know who’s ever expressed their opinion of this song loves it.

Though they were only together as a band from 1965-68, The Mamas & the Papas released five studio albums and 17 singles, six of which made the Billboard top 10, and have sold nearly 40 million records worldwide. They were immensely popular, and are considered one of the defining music acts of the mid 1960s. The most striking aspect of their music were their incredible vocal harmonies.

“California Dreamin’” was written by John and Michelle Phillips in 1963 while they were living in New York City during a particularly cold winter. Michelle was feeling homesick for her home state of California (she was born in Long Beach and spent her childhood and teen years in Los Angeles and Mexico City). At the time, John and Michelle were members of the folk group the New Journeymen, which later evolved into the Mamas and the Papas with the addition of Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott.

The song was originally recorded by Barry McGuire, with John and Michelle singing backing vocals, and members of the renowned Los Angeles-based session musicians The Wrecking Crew playing instrumentals. Impressed by the Mamas and the Papas, who had recently signed with Dunhill Records, label executive Lou Adler had the track re-recorded with Denny singing lead vocals and paired with the same instrumental and backing vocal tracks, along with a stunning alto flute by Bud Shank and a guitar introduction played by P.F. Sloan. The song was released in December 1965, and ultimately peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following March.

Even though I was a California native who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the song has always strongly resonated with me. I still vividly remember the time I heard it on the radio as a kid while riding in the car with my family from our home in Santa Clara up to San Francisco in February 1966. We were going to “The City” to watch the Chinese New Year’s Parade in Chinatown, but things weren’t looking very promising, as it was a gloomy day with rain in the forecast. To this day, I think of that trip to San Francisco whenever I hear “California Dreamin’”, and yes, it ended up raining on our parade. Many years later, I spent 17 years living in St. Louis, which has a lot of cold, dreary weather in winter, and often found myself California dreamin’ during those periods.

All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm, if I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped into a church I passed along the way
Well I got down on my knees and I pretended to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold, he knows I’m gonna stay
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
If I didn’t tell her, I could leave today
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day

Though this video of the Mamas & the Papas performing the song for the TV show The Hollywood Palace has them doing a pretty poor lip-syncing job, it does show them in their prime.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos

One of the most romantic love songs ever written has to be “I Only Have Eyes For You”. The song was written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin for the 1934 film Dames, starring Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell. Powell sang it in the film and several artists also recorded their own versions of the song in 1934, including bandleader Ben Selvin, (with vocals by Howard Phillips), pianist Eddy Duchin, and singer Jane Froman. But the version released in 1959 by R&B/doo wop band The Flamingos is without question the most captivating of them all. It’s among the earliest songs I ever remember hearing as a very young boy, and I’ve loved it my entire life.

The song was the biggest hit for the Flamingos, reaching #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #3 on the Hot R&B Songs chart, but it should have been #1 in my opinion. Their version has endured over the years and is recognized as an important work. The song has been included in numerous ‘best-of’ lists, and in 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #158 on their list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. It was also featured in the 1973 film American Graffiti.

The song is perfection from start to finish, with a dreamy arrangement and that sultry doo wop groove that’s so damned enchanting. I love the repetitive piano riff that establishes the mesmerizing percussive rhythm for the song, as well as those tasty little guitar notes sprinkled throughout. Then there are the fabulous silky vocals by Nate Nelson, backed by echoed vocal harmonies of the rest of the band that almost have the effect of another instrument in themselves. God, what a magnificent song it is!

My love must be a kind of blind love
I can't see anyone but you

Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear
The moon may be high
But I can't see a thing in the sky
I only have eyes for you.

I don't know if we're in a garden
Or on a crowded avenue
You are here, and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you

Other versions of the song were later recorded by numerous artists, including Frank Sinatra in 1962, The Lettermen in 1966, Art Garfunkel in 1975 (who’s version went to #1 in the UK), Carly Simon in 2005, and Michael Buble in 2018. But the best will always remain the one by the Flamingos.

The Foo Fighters cover the Bee Gees/Andy Gibb on their latest album “Hail Satin” and I love it!

Who in their wildest dreams would have ever imagined that legendary rock band the Foo Fighters would one day record covers of some of the iconic classics by the Bee Gees and Andy Gibb? I certainly didn’t see it coming, but I gotta say that I absolutely love them! I was a huge Bee Gees & Andy Gibb fan back in the 70s, and loved most of their hit songs.

As their disco alter-ego the Dee Gees, Dave Grohl and company have recorded covers of four Bee Gees and one Andy Gibb hits for their latest album Hail Satin (officially titled Dee Gees / Hail Satin – Foo Fighers / Live), along with live performances of five songs from their February album release Medicine At Midnight. The Bee Gees/Andy Gibb covers comprise Side A, and the live performances of the five Medicine At Midnight tracks make up Side B of the vinyl release.

The Foo Fighters do an amazing job with all five covers, but my favorite is “Shadow Dancing”, with marvelous vocals sung by band drummer Taylor Hawkins, backed by Grohl’s terrific falsetto that does great justice to Barry Gibb. Also, having female back-up singers adds some wonderful texture to the vocals. I think I actually like this cover even better than the original, and it makes me love the Foos more than ever!

The album is a wonderful tribute to the Bee Gees’ rich and enduring legacy, and confirms that us geeks who loved them back in the day were actually hipper than we were led to believe!

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic” by Morris Stoloff

One of my favorite songs from the 1950s is “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic” by composer Morris Stoloff. Stoloff served as music director at Columbia Pictures from 1936 to 1962, and was subsequently tapped by Frank Sinatra to be music director of his label Reprise Records.

The beautiful instrumental piece is actually a medley arranged by Stoloff that combined the popular 1933 song “Moonglow”, written by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Eddie DeLange, with the “Theme from Picnic”, written by George Duning for the 1955 film starring William Holden, Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, Betty Field, Cliff Robertson, Arthur O’Connell and Susan Strasberg. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Picnic by William Inge, the film was adapted for the screen by Daniel Taradash, and directed by Joshua Logan, who also directed the Broadway production. Stoloff’s piece was used in the film, and later released as a single in early 1956. The song spent three weeks at #1 on the Billboard Most Played by Jockeys chart that spring (from 1955-57, Billboard had four distinct, and rather childishly-named, pop charts: Best Sellers in Stores, Most Played by Jockeys, Most Played in Jukeboxes, and Top 100).

From the 1940s to the early 1980s, instrumentals were quite popular and often released as singles. Beginning with the Big Band era and continuing all the way through to the Rock and Disco eras, numerous instrumentals became big hits. Some of the iconic instrumentals that went to #1 include the Benny Goodman classic “Sing Sing Sing”, Perez Prado’s “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”, Percy Faith’s “Theme from A Summer Place”, Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions”, Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue”, Hugo Montenegro’s “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”, Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas”, MFSB’s “T.S.O.P”, Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” and Vangelis’ “Theme from Chariots of Fire”. For me, “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic” ranks among the best of them. The cool percussion, jazzy piano keys and stirring orchestral strings are positively sublime.

The song is wonderful all by itself, but what makes it even more significant is the fact that it was used for one of the most important and memorable scenes in Picnic. A rather intoxicated Hal, played by William Holden, dances to the song with his college friend Alan’s girlfriend Madge, played by the devastatingly beautiful Kim Novak, while her younger sister Millie, played by Susan Strasberg, watches with teenage envy as she swigs liquor from a bottle hidden in Hal’s jacket. The also intoxicated middle-aged schoolteacher Rosemary, played by Rosalind Russell in one of her finest performances, and the hapless Howard (Arthur O’Connell) watch from the sidelines. Rosemary stews with bitter jealousy as she watches the younger, more beautiful Madge dance with Hal, who she finds both attractive and repellant. It’s an incredible scene taut with sexual tension and desire, and the sensuous song sets the perfect mood.

EML’s Favorite Songs – “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas

Though we’re officially only one week into Summer 2021, it’s already turning out to be an exceptionally hot one for a large swath of the U.S., and around the Northern Hemisphere. Temperature records have been shattered in many locations, including here in the Coachella Valley of Southern California where I live. On June 17th, the temperature in Palm Springs reached 123 degrees, setting a new all-time record high for June (after hitting 120 two days earlier). In the normally temperate Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon set a new all-time record high of 108 on June 26th, with Seattle also breaking their all-time record with 102 degrees. Those new records look to be short-lived, as they’re forecast to be broken later today!

(Late update: they were indeed broken on the 27th, as high temperatures reached 112 at the official airport station in Portland, and 104 in Seattle, then broken again on the 28th, with temperatures soaring to an unbelievable 116 in Portland, 117 in Salem and 107 in Seattle!)

These crazy-hot temperatures got me thinking about one of my favorite songs from the 1960s, “Heat Wave” by Martha & the Vandellas. Originally formed as the Del-Phis in 1957 by Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams, (and briefly renamed The Vels in 1961-62), the act was redubbed Martha & the Vandellas in 1962 after Martha Reeves replaced Williams as lead vocalist (and later to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas as Reeves gained prominence). “Heat Wave” (also known as “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave”) was written by the legendary Motown songwriting team of Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, who also penned numerous hits for the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops and many others. It was the second hit song they collaborated on with Martha & the Vandellas, following their first hit “Come and Get These Memories”.

“Heat Wave” features a gospel backbeat with jazz overtones, accompanied by Reeves’ brassy doo-wop call and response vocals that came to exemplify the style of music later termed as the “Motown Sound”. The rousing instrumentation was performed by in-house Motown musicians the Funk Brothers. The lyrics compare the intense, burning desires of romantic love to hot temperatures experienced during a heat wave.

Appropriately released in July 1963 – during what is often the hottest part of summer – the single was a breakthrough hit for Martha & the Vandellas, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. It also earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording for 1964, making the Vandellas the first Motown group ever to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

It’s a great song and a timeless classic that’s endured to this day. It was later covered by such artists as Linda Ronstadt (who scored a top five hit with it in 1975), The Jam (in 1979) and Phil Collins (in 2010). The Martha and the Vandellas version was featured in the 1970 film The Boys in the Band, in a scene where several of the characters perform an impromptu line dance to the song. It was also used in the 1976 film Carrie and 1979’s More American Graffiti. And in the 1992 film Sister Act, Whoopi Goldberg sings the song as part of her Vegas nightclub act saluting ’60s girl groups.

EML’s Favorite Songs – MADONNA: “Vogue”

I’ve been watching season two of the TV series POSE, a show about New York City’s underground drag ball scene of the 1980s and early 1990s, and the first episode featured the hit song “Vogue” by Madonna. The drag ball scene was primarily a young African-American and Latino LGBTQ underground subculture in which people – many of whom lived together in groups of friends as members of families in “houses” that replaced their own families of origin from which they were often estranged due to their being LGBTQ – competed for trophies and recognition by vogueing, a style of dance that involved walking and posing like fashion models on a runway.

Released in March 1990, “Vogue” became one of Madonna’s biggest hits, topping the charts in over 30 countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and the U.S., and was the best-selling single in the world in 1990. With “Vogue”, Madonna brought underground vogueing into the mainstream. Vogueing has since become a prominent dance form practiced worldwide, and many performers, including Beyoncé, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, have followed Madonna’s footsteps by adopting the dance style and incorporating it into their music videos and performances. The song also brought house music into mainstream popular music, as well as reviving the dance music genre a decade after the death of disco.

With its deep house groove and pulsating dance beat, “Vogue” is a wonderful celebratory anthem about escaping one’s problems and enjoying yourself on the dance floor, no matter one’s race, gender or sexual orientation. The music and arrangement were written by producer Shep Pettibone, who had previously worked with Madonna on a number of her songs, and she wrote the lyrics. After completing her work on the Dick Tracy film and soundtrack, Madonna flew to New York and recorded her vocals in a small basement studio on West 56th Street. According to Pettibone, Madonna worked efficiently, rapidly tracking all the verse and chorus vocals in order, and in single takes. He proposed the idea of a rap verse for the middle eight, consisting of namechecking classic film stars and celebrities from Hollywood’s golden age. He and Madonna quickly came up with a list of names, which she immediately recorded. (Wikipedia) The names include Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Joe DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean, Gracy Kelly, Jean Harlow, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner and Bette Davis.

“Vogue” was originally intended as the B-side for “Keep It Together”, the final single from Madonna’s album Like a Prayer, but both she and her label Warner Bros. decided it should be released as its own single. And though it had nothing whatsoever to do with Dick Tracy, it was included on the film’s soundtrack album I’m Breathless. I saw the film and liked it well enough to buy the album, but it was mainly because I wanted the song “Vogue”. It’s become my all-time favorite Madonna song – which is saying something, given her remarkable and extensive discography – and also my third-favorite song of the 1990s (after R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”).

The video for “Vogue” was directed by a young David Fincher (who went on to direct such noted films as Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). Shot in black and white, the video was inspired by films and photographs of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood, and features Madonna and her dancers vogueing and posing in various choreographed moves. The video has been ranked as one of the greatest of all time by numerous critics and in several polls, and was nominated in nine categories at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, ultimately winning three. Strike a pose!

EML’s Favorite Songs – New Radicals: “You Get What You Give”

It was a nice surprise to see The New Radicals perform their iconic 1998 hit “You Get What You Give” at today’s virtual “Parade Across America”, one of the events celebrating the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The song was one of my favorites of the late 1990s and, even though I was already in my mid 40s when it was released, its uplifting yet culturally rebellious lyrics strongly resonated with me. I also loved it’s exuberant vibe and fantastic melody.

The song also meant a lot to Joe Biden’s son Beau, who considered it an inspirational anthem that gave him strength and solace during his battle with the brain cancer that eventually took his life in 2015. In an article for Entertainment, Tyler Aquilina quoted a passage from President Biden’s 2017 autobiography Promise Me Dad: “During breakfast, Beau would often make me listen to what I thought was his theme song, ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals. Even though Beau never stopped fighting and his will to live was stronger than most — I think he knew that this day might come. The words to the song are: ‘This whole damn world can fall apart. You’ll be OK, follow your heart.

The Biden inauguration committee invited The New Radicals – who broke up in 1999 just months after “You Get What You Give” was released – to perform less than a week before Inauguration Day. “If there’s one thing on Earth that would possibly make us get the band together, if only for a day, it is the hope that our song could be even the tiniest beacon of light in such a dark time,” band frontman Gregg Alexander said in a statement.

For their Inauguration Day performance, Alexander (wearing an identical hat to the one he wore in the song’s music video), dedicated their performance to Beau Biden and to the new administration, saying in a pre-taped introduction, “When we heard that ‘You Get What You Give’ was a Biden family anthem, we pledged that if Joe won, we’d get together and play our little song, both in memory and in honor of our new president’s patriot son Beau, and also with the prayer of Joe being able to bring our country together again.”

In addition to the song’s special meaning for the Bidens, it also served as future Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff’s (Kamala Harris’ husband) walk-out music during the 2020 campaign.

Wake up kids, we’ve got the dreamer’s disease
Age 14, we got you down on your knees
So polite, we’re busy still saying please

Frienemies, who when you’re down ain’t your friend
Every night we smash their Mercedes-Benz
First we run and then we laugh ’til we cry

But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light, light
You feel your dreams are dying
Hold tight

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give

I’m comin’ home baby
You’re tops, give it to me now

Four A.M. we ran a miracle mile
We’re flat broke but hey we do it in style
The bad rich
God’s flying in for your trial

But when the night is falling
You cannot find your friend (friend)
You feel your tree is breaking just bend

This whole damn world can fall apart
You’ll be OK, follow your heart
You’re in harm’s way, I’m right behind
Now say you’re mine

Don’t let go
I feel the music in you
Fly high
What’s real can’t die
You only get what you give
You’re gonna get what you give
(don’t give up)
Just don’t be afraid to live

Health insurance rip off lying
FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they’re multiplying
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson,
Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson
You’re all fakes
Run to your mansions
Come around
We’ll kick your ass in!

Don’t let go
One dance left

The fun video for “You Get What You Give” was filmed in the Staten Island Mall and directed by Evan Bernard. Alexander said he chose this setting because he saw the shopping mall “as a metaphor for society—a fake, controlled environment engineered to encourage spending”. The video shows a band of marauding teenagers, led by Alexander, wreaking havoc in the mall, terrorizing adults and moshing in the food court.