May 17, 2015

Song of the Day #1250

Song of the Day: Ghosttown features the music and lyrics of Jason Evigan, Evan Bogart, Sean Douglas, and Madonna who recorded the song for her newest album "Rebel Heart." The album track is performed as a ballad on her new album [YouTube link], But the song gains distinction this week as the 45th No. 1 single to chart Billboard's Dance Club Songs, the most of any Number One single on any chart in the history of Billboard. Among the remixers who took the song to Number One, check out the Dirty Pop Mix, DJ Mike Cruz NYC Club Mix, Offer Nissam Drama Mix, Razor N Guido Remix, and the S-Man Mix. And while you're at it, check out the Billboard Music Awards tonight.

May 16, 2015

Song of the Day #1249

Song of the Day: Let the Good Times Roll, words and music by New Orleans-blues singer Sam Theard and his wife Fleecie Moore, was first recorded by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five [YouTube link] for the 1947 film, "Reet, Petite, and Gone." The song has been recorded by so many different artists from so many different genres. But yesterday, the King of the Blues passed away [clip of Eric Clapton's eulogy]. And so today, I give you three Monarchs, and maybe One in waiting: Tony Bennett, joining B. B. King on vocals (who always played a mean blues guitar), from the Bennett album "Playin' with My Friends." And check out the live Bobby Bland and B. B. King version as well [YouTube link]. This King knew had to live; his discography will let the good times roll as long as human beings have the capacity to hear. Long live the King. Tonight, you can check out more blues royalty, a biopic of the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith, played by Queen Latifah in "Bessie." And here's to what I hope will be a Monarch-in-Waiting: American Pharoah, winner of the Kentucky Derby, has just won the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes, the second victory on the way to the Belmont and the Triple Crown.

May 11, 2015

Song of the Day #1248

Song of the Day: Salt Peanuts includes composer credits for the great be-bop pioneers, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Many recordings of this be bop standard exist; it cannot be called lyrically dense, but it is a lot of fun. It was most famously recorded on this date by the great Dizzy Gillespie and his All Stars in New York for Guild Records in 1945 [YouTube link].

April 30, 2015

Song of the Day #1247

Song of the Day: The Charleston, composed by stride pianist James P. Johnson, with lyrics by Cecil Mack, was featured in the all-black Broadway musical comedy "Runnin' Wild," which debuted at the New Colonial Theatre on October 29, 1923. One of the most famous recordings of this jazz age standard was recorded in France on April 21,1937 by the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring violinist extraordinaire Stephane Grappelli, the immortal jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, guitar sidemen Pierre Ferret and Marcel Bianchi, and bassist Louis Vola. Established far away from the American soil that originated the art form, the Quintette contributed to the rise of jazz as a genuine global cultural contribution. And subsequently, the group had a huge impact on American jazz musicians. Indeed, Reinhardt alone is credited as one of the most influential guitarists in jazz history. As Bill Dahl put it: "Despite two fingers on his fretting hand being substantially paralyzed due to injuries suffered in a fire before he hit the bigtime, Reinhardt made more mesmerizing magic on his axe without those digits than the vast majority of fretsmen do with the standard allotment of five. Les Paul, Chet Atkins, B. B. King, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass [whose "For Django" album remains one of the milestones in the evolution of the jazz guitar -- ed.], George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson, Jeff Beck, and Jerry Garcia have all reverently sung his praises over the years." Check out the Quintette recording on YouTube. Today is International Jazz Day, so named by UNESCO in 2011, followed by a UN festival kick-off in 2012 on this date and celebrated annually ever since. This year's festival takes place in Paris, France and kicks off today. Vive Le Jazz Hot!

April 23, 2015

Song of the Day #1246

Song of the Day: Uptown Funk features the words and music of Jeff Bhasker, Philip Lawrence, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, whose vocals are delivered with flair on Ronson's recording, a selection from his album, Uptown Special. The song just ended its 14-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Its got a great throwback groove, with a touch of The Time and early Prince. Check out the hilarious official video on YouTube along with a live performance on SNL.

April 12, 2015

Song of the Day #1245

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("The Pieta"/"The Sepulcher"/"Resurrection") [YouTube link], composed by the great Miklos Rozsa for the 1961 film of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, marks the moment of his death, burial, and resurrection, which today is celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians. The film, directed by Nicholas Ray, who was known for his work in "Rebel without a Cause" (starring James Dean), acts as a prelude to the tumultuous 1960s. In that decade, revolutionaries of many faiths forged a civil rights movement by means both violent and nonviolent. Indeed, change "by any means necessary," a Sartrean phrase extolled by Malcolm X, echoes Ray's characterization of the Judean rebel Barabbas (played by Harry Guardino) who opposed Roman aggression with violence. The character says he wants "freedom," but he differs from Jesus only in the means by which to achieve it. By contrast, Jesus is portrayed by Ray as a nonviolent revolutionary, echoing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., a rebel with cause who died violently as the Christ he worshipped. To all of my friends and family who are celebrating today (my maternal grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos was, after all, the founder of the first Greek Orthoodox Church in Brooklyn, the Three Hierarchs Church on Avenue P and East 18th Street), I say: Christos Anesti! It comes at a time that for believers and pagans alike is a season of rebirth: Hope Springs Eternal.

April 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1244

Song of the Day: What a Little Moonlight Can Do, words and music by Harry M. Woods, appears as the first track on "The Centennial Collection," marking, today, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, whose repertoire ran from swing to blues, and whose voice captured the depth of struggles both personal and societal. A life cut short by the long-term tragic effects of substance abuse, she was a trailblazer for so many singers who followed, from Frank Sinatra (whose centennial we celebrate later this year) to Janis Joplin to Cassandra Wilson (who issues a tribute album of her own this week). And for those who haven't seen the underappreciated, heart-wrenching 1972 bio-pic, "Lady Sings the Blues," do check out the Oscar-nominated performance of Diana Ross. I picked this tune (first performed by Violet Loraine in the 1934 film, "Road House"), for, despite her personal agony, Holiday could swing through the sadness. Listen to her on YouTube [music link] in 1935 with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra, in a recording that also features the King of Swing, Benny Goodman. Long Live Lady Day!

April 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1243

Song of the Day: King of Kings ("Jesus Enters Jerusalem"/"A Tempest in Judea"/"Defeat"/"False") [YouTube link], composed by Maestro Miklos Rozsa, is featured as the cue in this 1961 Biblical epic, when Jesus of Nazareth (played by Jeffrey Hunter) enters the city of Jerusalem during the season of the Passover on what has become known as "Palm Sunday" in Christianity. It is at once triumphal, while also providing an undercurrent of unrest among a populace dominated by the forces of Rome. For those who celebrate Easter in Western Christianity and Passover in Judaism, I extend my good wishes for the season. Next Sunday is the Eastern Orthodox Easter, which will be marked by another Song of the Day tribute.

April 01, 2015

Song of the Day #1242

Song of the Day: The Fool on the Hill, credited to Lennon and McCartney (though written by Paul alone), was recorded in 1967 and included on The Beatles's "Magical Mystery Tour" album and film. It's a great song for an April Fool's Day; check out the original version by the Beatles, and also a really nice bossa-tinged rendition recorded by Sergio Mendez and Brasil 66 [YouTube links].

March 20, 2015

Song of the Day #1241

Song of the Day: Tonight May Have To Last Me All My Life, words and music by Donald Borzage and Johnny Mercer, is a song I discovered on a 1964 Nancy Wilson album, called "Today, Tomorrow, Forever." Where the hell have I been that I never heard this gem before? Beautiful song, and beautifully delivered by the always beautiful Nancy, with some nice guitar accompaniment by John Gray. Check it out on YouTube. What a nice way to begin a Vernal Equinox; after the lousy 2014-2015 winter (with more snow predicted today), the arrival of Spring tonight can last me all my life, indeed! Allergies included!

March 15, 2015

Song of the Day #1240

Song of the Day: The Godfather ("Main Title") [YouTube link], composed by Nino Rota, is the central musical motif of one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed, directed by the incomparable Francis Ford Coppola, who won an Oscar as co-writer of the adapted screenplay, with the author of the original novel, Mario Puzo. It starred Best Actor-winning Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, and a terrific supporting cast, including Al Pacino, who went on to film two sequels to this Oscar-winning Best Picture. Rota received a Grammy for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Special, but was ruled ineligible for the Oscars; that travesty was corrected when he won (with Carmine Coppola) for his brilliant score to The Godfather Part II. It's the Ides of March; but instead of commemorating Julius Caesar on the famous day of his assassination, I recommend this film about a few modern-day "Caesars" in the criminal pantheon.

March 07, 2015

Song of the Day #1239

Song of the Day: We are the World, words and music by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, was released on this date in 1985. A quintessential Quincy Jones production, the song raised millions of dollars to feed the hungry through USA for Africa. It brought together performers from every genre of music, everybody from Ray Charles, Billy Joel, and Cyndi Lauper to Al Jarreau, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder. Its melodic hook brought it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. Today, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of an enduring musical collaboration. It took a lot of work and received four Grammys: Record of the Year; Song of the Year; Best Music Video, Short Form, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Check out the official video on YouTube.

March 06, 2015

Song of the Day #1238

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("So Long, Farewell"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is heard a couple of times in the 1965 Best Picture. It's a lovely ensemble piece. We get to relish it, and each of the children's characters, at a Von Trapp party gathering. Later, it is performed as the finale to the Salzburg Festival, providing the family the means by which to escape from the Nazis, who are waiting in the wings to force Captain Von Trapp into naval service for the hated Third Reich. The film sequences leading up to the family's tense escape from the Nazis gives us just one more indication of the film's depth. It encapsulates moments of love, hope, betrayal, and suspense against the backdrop of one of the ugliest periods of twentieth-century history. In the end, of course, as I conclude my mini-celebration of the Golden Anniversary of this cinematic triumph, we are reminded that it is the liberating sound of music that symbolically vanquishes the forces of evil. Check out the version at the party and the reprise featured in the concert finale [YouTube links].

March 05, 2015

Song of the Day #1237

Song of the Day: The Sound of Music ("Edelweiss"), music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is the one song in this splended film that sounds as if it is a genuine folk song. It is sung by Captain von Trapp toward the close of the film, near the end of a concert sequence that unites the audience through Austrian cultural solidarity, in the ominous shadows of the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria. The Captain is to be forcibly enlisted into the naval ranks of the Third Reich. So this song is performed by actor Christopher Plummer with both poignance and defiance. He nearly loses his voice as he chokes back tears, but the Von Trapp Family Singers join him, for they are planning to escape to freedom at the conclusion of the Salzburg Festival talent competition. Still, this song, named after the white flower found in the Austrian Alps, has all the sound of a folk culture that the Nazis must crush. At the young age of five years old, I initially resisted seeing this movie that everybody was talking about. Who wants to go see some silly musical event with a mob? Even then, I was exhibiting an individualistic interest in history and politics, rather than Broadway show tunes! But I went to the Highway Theatre in Brooklyn, grudgingly, and the songs and performances slowly carressed me. Entertainment morphed into an historical narrative of the growing Nazi threat, on the precipice of World War II. I was hooked. I've been in love with this film, and this song, ever since. Check it out on YouTube.

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