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!

New Song of the Week – US3R: “Oasis”

Us3r pic

US3R (pronounced ‘user’, and the artistic moniker of a very nice guy named Kristian Alexander) has been making a name for himself over the past year through his prolific output of great synthwave-inspired electronic pop music and dazzling live performances. Last year the Seattle-based singer-songwriter and composer dropped two albums, beginning in May 2019 with his debut 1985 (named for the year of his birth), then followed in December with INFLUENCE, a brilliant work addressing modern influencer culture and the loss of intimacy in the digital age. Both are outstanding, and I urge my readers to check them out on one of the music streaming platforms listed at the end of this review. So far this year, he’s released several new singles, some of them collaborations with other artists. In March, I featured his beautiful song “Forever Blue”, a collaboration with Minneapolis composer Jasper Mitchell (you can read that review here). Now US3R returns with a sunny new single “Oasis“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.

A highly creative and talented guy, Kristian came up with the name US3R for his music project through his work in the IT industry. “In computer terminology/operating systems, there are references to “user” in a million different forms. It felt like an archetypal term that represented computer culture… and also in hacker culture, we have a tendency to talk in “leet speak” (where you swap numbers for letters), so, ‘US3R’ is a reference to the hacky nature of my music.“ There are a lot of artists and producers out there making various kinds of electronic music, and US3R seeks to fill a gap by creating his own style of what he calls “electronic grunge that borders on R&B”.

US3R was inspired to write “Oasis” while visiting his mom in Palm Springs earlier this summer. He grew up in the Coachella Valley, where I now live. He explains “I grew up in Palm Springs. Swimming pools, sand everywhere, burning hot sun, a thriving diverse community, and teenage romance. I’ve wanted to write a song that felt this way. During quarantine I flew home and wrote this. This song was FUN to record. I layered my voice like old 90s house tracks. I played my us3r-style vocoders, I threw down some brass synths. Its all of the stuff I love about writing synth music.

And what a great job he does on “Oasis”. Starting with an infectious dance beat that aims straight for the hips, he layers sparkling keyboards, thumping synth bass and those smooth brass synths that give the track a sultry, summery vibe. US3R has a silky-smooth vocal style that’s both pleasing and seductive, and he turns up the heat when he croons “You got me walking through the desert. You got my heart and soul. And I can’t go. Move through the desert, got me craving your oasis.” It’s the perfect song for summer romance and hot pool parties. Makes me wish I was 29 again!

Connect with Us3r:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Apple Music /  Soundcloud  / YouTube
Purchase:  Google Play / Bandcamp

New Song of the Week – CARL THORNTON: “Let Me Fly”

Carl Thornton

Carl Thornton is a multi-faceted singer, songwriter, actor and dancer based in Brooklyn, New York.  From the very first moment he stood up on stage as a member of his elementary school chorus at the age of seven, Carl knew he wanted to be a singer. He later studied at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, H.B. Studios, and the Broadway Dance Center, and went on to star in the national tour of RENT, where he played the role of Benny. He also performed in the musical 5 Guys Named Moe, as well as From My Hometown, and You Shouldn’t Have Told.

He’s had a successful music career over the past five years, beginning with his 2015 debut dance single “Get Up!” The Carlos Sanchez and Sami Dee remix of the song has garnered over 154,000 views on Spotify. Carl followed up with a number of excellent EDM and pop singles, which culminated in his 2016 EP Destined. He released a wonderful, inspirational dance single “I Depend on Me” in 2018, and now returns with another joyously uplifting new dance track “Let Me Fly“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The lyrics speak to not wallowing in negativity and defeatism, instead choosing a more positive outlook to help guide our way forward. And we can all certainly use a great song with a positive message right about now!

The single, released through Casa Rossa Records, features a lush soundscape of shimmery orchestral synths and percussion, set to an exuberant and hypnotic deep house EDM beat. Carl has a beautiful, resonant singing voice, and his powerful soaring vocals have a commanding, almost gospel-like quality that give the inspiring lyrics even greater impact. It’s a terrific song.

There were times, moments in my life when I felt shattered
My mind is weary, so completely battered
Not willing to go on, I felt defeated
All alone with the voices in my head
I couldn’t shake them
Much negativity, I was surrounded
Kept thinking to myself I might not make it
But then I heard a voice, and let me fly, yeah
Let me fly, yeah

Connect with Carl:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream his music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music
Purchase:  iTunesGoogle PlayBeatport

Featured Song & Video: SHMOO – “pLaStIc SuRgErY”

Shmoo is a UK duo consisting of two brothers – David and Neil Newport – who’ve been making an exciting style of Electronic Dance/House music for some time. They just dropped their marvelous new single “Plastic Surgery,” along with one of the most delightfully entertaining videos I’ve seen in a long while.

shmoo

The guys artfully employ sweeping synth arpeggiators and smooth Moog bass lines to create an otherworldly vibe. Broken beat drops are then added, moving the song forward with a hypnotic driving rhythm guaranteed to set your hips in motion. Their mesmerizing vocals are spliced with the spoken vocoder for the chorus ‘plastic surgery,’ giving the track a bit of an eerie sci-fi feel. This is an awesome song that had me hitting replay.

The fun and clever video tells a story in which Shmoo are recreated as plastic figures who go on an adventure through a fantasy world, where they encounter characters from Star Wars, Transformers, Thunder Cats, He-Man and Zoids. The guys end up at the Star Wars Cantina, where they’re led to a stage and begin performing the song with other characters.

Learn more about Shmoo by following them on  Facebook,  Twitter and  Instagram. Subscribe to their YouTube channel and stream their music on  Soundcloud and  Spotify.  Purchase “Plastic Surgery” and their other music on Bandcamp,  iTunes or other music platforms.